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As I indicated in Part I of this post, doing business with friends or relatives is tricky.  Many friendships have ended because people have attempted to do business or go into business with friends; relatives have gone so far as to stop speaking to one another for years and even for decades due to some business transaction.  One of the reasons for the difficulty of doing business with friends or relatives has to do with the emotional significance of money.  Few people have an attitude of “it’s only money.”  So, when we add the emotional component of money to the tricky nature of relationships, the two together makes for a minefield of difficulties.  More than one relationship has exploded trying to negotiate this territory.

I have known relatives and friends who have taken the position that they will not do business of any type with their friends or relatives.  They refuse to buy products from or use the services of friends or relatives simply to avoid the potential conflict.  I have also known friends and relatives who have taken great offense at being told by a friend or relative that they will not do business with them.  Damned if they do and damned if they don’t!  Emotional blackmail.  “If you don’t do business with me you are not being supportive of me.  And if you are not being supportive of me, then you can’t be my friend.”  For these people it is not sufficient for one to say, “I don’t want to do business with you even if I have to pay more for the product or service elsewhere.  I do not want to change the nature of our relationship.  It is too important to me.”  So we can see that even in this instance just how challenging an issue money is for people.  Most professionals, e.g., lawyers, physicians, psychologists, accountants, etc., understand that a friend or relative might feel uncomfortable doing business with them.  They accept that their friends and relatives might have other professionals provide service to them.  But this is not true for many people who are either personally insecure or financially desperate.  These people interpret the actions of others in a very self-centered manner and as a personal affront. I see many of these people in my psychotherapy practice.

Friendships and Business Relationships

Friendships focus primarily on an emotional bond or attachment.  Friendships usually are based on common values, similar backgrounds, common interests, or similar circumstances.  Most friends offer each other emotional support, succor, empathy, affection, and companionship.  Friendships can be of varying intensity ranging from something a bit more than acquaintances to intimate or best friends.  Friends may offer one another assistance in emergencies, help with special projects, and comfort in a crisis.  Usually you feel better about yourself when with your friend than you did before seeing your friend.  Similarly with relatives, but not always.  You do not get to choose your relatives; hence, you may be closer with some than with others.  Your expectations may vary with friends and with relatives.  However, in order for these relationships to flourish, these expectations should be explicit and mutually accepted (although they are often left unstated).  Hidden expectations that are unmet can lead to disappointments and tensions in the relationship.  The stronger the bond between the parties, the less chance that such disappointments will lead to disaster.

Business relationships (both partnerships and customer or client relationships) are based on a common business interest; they are emotionally at arms length.  There is no need for an emotional connect or bond because both parties are focused on the business transaction.  Business partners are engaged in developing a viable business that makes financial sense and rely on the profit motive to keep the partners connected.  These relationships can and should be negotiated, with each party articulating their expectations, goals, desires, and values.  The parties hammer out a business plan and partnership agreement; if they happen to like one another, so much the better.  And should a friendship develop, it will happen as they work together developing the business.  The primary focus, however, is the business with attention being payed to the relationship between the parties as needed for the growth of the business.  Friendship, however, is not a necessary aspect of the business relationship.  The same holds true for doing business with another person.  An accountant (lawyer, physician, electrician, hair-stylist) may like his/her client and vice versa. A bonus.  Nice, but not required.

Business relationships of all kinds are focused on the business interest; the parties to the relationship are not focused on one another. In friendships the focus is on one another; there is no business interest (i.e., service or product). Business relations are mediated by the business interest; friendships are direct. Regardless of how much one professes to be customer focused, the two people engaged in a business relationship would not be engaged with one another were it not for the business interest.  They probably wouldn’t even know one another.  As most business people would say, liking one’s customers is a bonus.

The problems begin when one tries to merge these two models.  This will be the focus of the next post in this series.

[Please add your thoughts and experiences on this topic in the comment section of this blog.  This blog is intended as a forum for folks to raise issues, share experiences, and promote dialogue on important issues of contemporary life.   Please sign up as a Facebook Fan at www.docdreyfus.com/fanpage. For additional information about me and my practice, please visit my website at www.DocDreyfus.com.]