Will You Be My Friend?

So, we all know that my last article got a little side-tracked. Based on your feedback I’d have to say that it was a good thing. Thanks for your notes and comments. I really enjoy hearing back from you. Today I hope to talk about the importance of friends in the workplace. Who knows where I’ll end up but I’ll give it my best shot :-).

This article is really the next logical step from my recent article on influencing others. In that article I talked about how to get people on board with your plans by analyzing it from their perspective and addressing their likely concerns before pitching the idea. I feel strongly about this way of doing things because of the success that I’ve had with it in my own career.

I remember when I first started to apply this principle in my own job. It was exciting. First off, I was finally successful in pitching my original ideas and leading change. But along with that came the whispers around the halls that I had leadership’s ear. Did I really have leadership’s ear? No, not really. I didn’t get any phone calls from our group VP asking my opinion about this or that. But what I did start to develop was a track record of making things happen. People started to come to me for advice because they saw that I was successful in getting people to take action where they hadn’t in the past.

I thought this was wonderful (of course). I was very conscious of my reputation and it seemed like it was growing in the directions that I wanted it to grow. I should have realized in advance that with growth came more work, a LOT more. It took me a little while to figure it out. Why in the world did so many different people decide that I was the one they wanted to come to with their needs and requests? These weren’t things that I had to do but I was conscious of my reputation and it wouldn’t make a good impression on various leaders to turn down their requests when they came my way for help.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that the ability to get things done is rare in this world. Most people in a given office are what I would refer to as a worker bee. On one hand, they are critical pieces of an organization. On the other hand, they keep their heads down and do what they are told. The weakness of worker bees is that they always need instruction. They don’t typically figure out how to succeed on their own. This can be a real problem for a leader because the leader would have already gotten things done if they knew how to accomplish them on their own. Typically they need somebody who can take the situation and deliver a positive result. This is the role that I strive to fill personally and would recommend it to anyone who wants to grow in their job or earn their way up the corporate ladder.

Believe me, when leaders realize you are one of these people they will come knocking on your door. That’s exactly what happened to me. But there was a problem…I couldn’t do it all. Realistically, I couldn’t even do half of it. Even more importantly, there were things that were brought my way that I shouldn’t be trying to work on. I didn’t have the expertise I needed and would probably cause trouble if I tried. But I couldn’t turn down the work, not if I wanted to maintain my reputation. That’s when I learned the next trick to be successful in big business. In a word – Friends.

When I was first starting out I was one of those people who would say, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to work.” I’m sure you guys have been around others who have said the same kind of thing. What a pile of horse manure. For me this was nothing more than a preemptive defense mechanism to help me feel better about the fact that I had no success making friends. As long as I told myself I didn’t care then it didn’t hurt. I can’t say that it’s the same for everyone, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the people who say this had the same problem.

In reality, friends are critical to your success at work, particularly once you’ve graduated from the worker bee stage. Why are friends so important? Let me give you the wrong answer first. The wrong answer is that you can delegate your work to unsuspecting friends so that they can do it for you. That’s just using people and it won’t last very long, no matter how good your relationships are. Friends are important because they are mutually beneficial relationships where both parties assume good intentions on the part of each other.

Let’s break that down a little bit further. You’ll notice that I included the key phrase “mutually beneficial”. This is absolutely critical in the relationships that I’m describing. You may have heard the term – If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. The concept is as old as time, but it works. The second key to the definition is the fact that both parties assume good intentions. You have to be able to trust that the person you are in a relationship is not going to use you and abuse you. Favors are almost never done for each other at the same time. Instead, one friend will act first and then the other will reciprocate when the opportunity presents itself. In some cases you’ll ask back and forth for favors, other times it’s like receiving a random act of kindness.

This is the type of relationship that allowed me to continue succeeding when the work started piling up to the ceiling. You start with a couple of friends but as you meet more and more people in different areas of your company you begin to build a full network of people with all types of skills and dreams. Over time, after you’ve developed this network of friends you are able to leverage the right ones for any given situation to get the job done.

It’s funny how much this type of business friendship has taught me about real friendship. It’s easy to assume that these favors are all assignments, but in fact, the majority of them are simple things like getting help with the answer to a question. I have friendly relationships with people of all levels at work, and in most cases I haven’t done a scrap of real work for them. Instead I’ve answered questions and said nice things about them. That’s not too much to ask is it?

Through conversation my friends have a good general sense of the places I’ve been and the types of work that I know about. Whenever I get a call or an email from somebody I’ve built a relationship with (or someone I want to build a relationship with) I will bend over backwards to answer it as quickly as possible or direct them to the best person I know who can help them. Sometimes I find myself digging and doing research that they could probably do for themselves, but that’s ok. They asked for my help and I’m going to do my absolute best to deliver it. Why? Because that’s what I’m hoping they’ll do for me when I come calling.

The other thing that I do for my friends is to refer people to them and talk them up. People talking you up at a big company is as valuable as gold. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’m talking to my boss about xyz and he asks me what I know about it. I may know a good amount about xyz, but I know that my friend Suzie in marketing knows more than I do. I’ll help my boss with what I know, but then I’ll say something like, “You know who could really help you with this is Suzie from marketing. I’ve known Suzie for about 5 years and she’s the expert I always go to for xyz. You’ll really like her, she’s good people.”

Now this wasn’t a big deal on my end, but Suzie just got a huge boost in my bosses eyes and you never know how that will work out. 2 years down the road Suzie might be interviewing for a job with my boss and he’ll remember that recommendation. One key point though, if you do something like this it is common courtesy to call and prepare the person. If they’ve had a chance to think about it ahead of time then they will look even better by knowing the answer off of the top of their head when your boss calls them.

I think you guys get the picture. This is why it is always important to put your best foot forward. Every day you are surrounded by people who could be putting a good word in for you. You’re meeting new people all the time who can help you, all you have to do is build an easy relationship and then start thinking about ways to do good things for them. It’s the exact same concept as making friends in the real world. The only difference is that the real world allows you to pick the friends you want. In the business world you need to understand that everyone is a potential friend. If you want to be picky or snobbish about your friends then you are hurting two people, yourself and the friend that you could have made by chose not to.

I hope this was helpful. I expect my next article or two to focus on interview skills.

Until then, Be Blessed.

Jonathan

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Posted on January 9, 2011, in Career Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This strikes me as extremely valuable advice for the workplace. Thank you for sharing it. I intend to apply it at my job (or at least more so than I have already been doing).

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