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Don't Confuse Friendship for Business

I’ve been honored to be involved in the automobile business since 1982, and I’ve met some truly outstanding people that I’m proud to know. In that time, I’ve come across thousands of owners, general managers, sales managers and salespeople and tens of thousands of vendors. Some of this should go without saying, but as I was subtly reminded over the past month or two (or past day or two), I felt an important topic to discuss was about not mistaking friendship for business, as it will cost you every time you do.
 
1) Your friend is not your friend while they are working for you!
My experience has been, especially if you are in a managerial role, that “friends” are the most difficult to manage. Most will try to come in late, leave early, not follow up, not turn customers, take additional liberties, etc. When you would ordinarily hold them accountable for appointments, no turn to the desk, etc., it’s easy to turn a blind eye because they’re your friend. Your friend takes advantage of your friendship because you’re friends. This is probably a stereotype, but my experience has been that friends think they get preferential treatment because of a personal relationship. The reality is that (just ask some of my friends) I hold friends to a higher standard because they know better. When they try to push the envelope, they get the smack down.
 
Someone who is now a good friend of mine, but one of my sales managers at the time, was shocked to hear me berate him in not so kind language for not calling the log or being properly staffed (I had cancelled days off for managers until we got fully staffed, myself included). I kindly reminded him that because we failed to get the job done, we were in this situation and he was free to leave if it didn’t work for him. After getting over the shock of my candor toward him, he got the problem fixed but was shocked at my directness. I’m not saying to never hire friends, but to take extra care and evaluate them as if they weren’t your friend. Would I keep an employee who was late to meetings, left early, etc. if they weren’t my drinking buddy (for example)? Probably not.
2) The vendor selling you something is not your friend when you’re spending money!
 
I can’t tell you how many people are trying to be “my friend” since I came to Arizona. Vendors have offered to take me to lunch, go out for drinks after work, get me familiar with the nightlife, sports tickets, etc. My philosophy has been to do business with people I like (not unlike how we teach salespeople), but to not let “friendship” cause a bad business decision to be made.
 
Case in point, I took a fly on an unnamed newspaper, because I don’t know what I don’t know. Once I started running the ad, the vendor offered me tickets for the Diamondbacks, offers to take me out, etc. in a feeble attempt to make/keep me happy. The problem was that, according to my Who’s Calling report, it was the worst responding advertisement we ran. Most people don’t inspect what they expect. It’s important not to confuse someone who’s friendly or trying to get on one’s good side for good (or bad) business decisions. We stopped running with this vendor after two issues.
 
3) Don’t mistake compassion for friendship, especially with the owner!
 
I bring this up as someone who learned a hard lesson by sharing just a little too much personal information with an owner not too long ago. I had multiple family issues going on outside of work. I confided this information to the owner as well as my direct supervisor. When we chatted about this, they told me that my family was the most important thing and they’d support me in taking care of it. But, they also said, if the issues continued, “We’d have a problem…” And, sure enough, not long afterwards, my candor with them cost me an opportunity within that group to run multiple stores, only three weeks after they had offered it to me (and I accepted), because “my personal life” wouldn’t allow me to do the job effectively. They did this despite my work ethic, which was unquestioned by them. After that occurred, I knew I couldn’t continue working for them, because I was damaged goods to them and I’d never be thought of when the next opportunity came up (which it did, and I was summarily dismissed from consideration).
 
In our business, we spend more time at work than we do with our families. It is very easy to confuse people you work with as more than colleagues or acquaintances. From my experience, work is the great equalizer to any personal issues I’ve had. What I mean by that is while I wasn’t able to control certain issues of my family life, I could always control what went on at work. Almost like self-medicating, it was easy to talk to customers, follow up and make gross.
 
I would never advocate being anything but forthright with an owner, executive manager, etc. when asked a direct question. When I failed, I was being too forthright and specific on my personal problems. In a majority of the cases, your owner/executive manager is not your friend. They are mentors, guides and invaluable work resources that, if you genuinely listen to what they say (about work), you’ll be far ahead. However, it’s important to remember that they have to consider their employee’s (including you) livelihood, as well as a significant financial interest how well their business does. When personal issues affect business, an owner has to do what they ultimately feel is best for the business, regardless of what’s going on in your little world. To expect them to be more than that isn’t terribly common and unrealistic in many cases. If you do, in fact, find that rare relationship, you are truly blessed.
 
4) Socializing outside of work almost always comes into the workplace!
 
There are plenty of times I’ve been asked to go out after work for a drink or two, sometimes more. It’s a tough call to make. If you’ve been in any business for a long time, you meet people, either by working with them, purchasing products from them or various industry functions. Over time, you might think you’re friends with them, but don’t mistake camaraderie and team building with friendship.
 
Many a conversation and/or incidents that happen on a social level become problems that encompass the work place. I had a finance director and a special finance manager that became more than colleagues outside the work place. Let’s call it “friends with benefits”. Things went well for awhile, and then became bitter. Unfortunately, they brought their socializing into the workplace, which adversely affected our business. I was then left with the clean up task of not letting it poison the rest of the dealership. Not that employees can’t go and unwind after the battle that is work, but socializing in that environment almost always leads to trouble for someone. Stay out of the fray!
 
5) People who say “let’s go out sometime” or “keep in touch” are probably just being polite!
 
Once I moved out of the Midwest, I can share the fact that many people who told me to “keep in touch” or “if you ever need anything, call me” were only my friends when I was making them money or it was convenient to them to be my friend. As I mentioned earlier, you find out who your friends are when things are tough. An example of this was when I needed some hand logs and some other items I needed when we opened this dealership. Despite the many times I had been there for many of these people, it took reaching the sixth person I called to get someone to actually reciprocate a previous favor and get me what I needed. Another example is when my former boss told me to call him anytime when I needed something, but he’s got such a full plate that I’m lucky to get a voice mail or e-mail from him once every other month.
 
Most of the time, when people you work(ed) with say “let’s go out” or “keep in touch”, they’re just being polite. It’s a very fine line between friendship and business and not mistaking one for the other is just being prudent. The good news is that I have a good social life and have friends outside of work and don’t have to rely on people from work to be friends. Hopefully, you do too. Remember, friendship is friendship, business is business, so don’t make the mistake of confusing the two or it can cause more stress or problems than you intended.
 
Volume 2, Issue 7
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