Business partners. How close do you get?

One of the things I love about what I do is the questions I am asked during training courses and presentations.

This week I was asked a great question which really made me think.

We were talking about the importance of relationships.

And how influence starts with relationships.

How the level of your influence is directly proportionate to the strength of your relationships.

The natural question most people have next is, ok so how do I improve my relationships?

So we were talking about how relationships are based on finding common ground.

And that relationships in work are not so different to those outside of work, just less touching!

So the secret to great relationships at work is to find personal ground first.

Then find business common ground.

The question

The question that really made me think came from a HR business partner.

She asked me:

‘Surely work relationships aren’t the same as outside of work. I mean, how close do you get? As HR sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with people, and if I had a close personal relationship that would make those conversations harder.’

We had a long talk as a group, and here’s where we got to:

1. It’s not just HR with this challenge

This is a common challenge for all business partners, whether HR, finance, procurement or R&D.

Basically does a strong relationship undermine our ability to make a tough call, have a tough conversation, or make a tough decision?

Does it add another level of bias into our minds that makes our job harder?

2. It’s not all or nothing, but finding the right balance

Outside of work there are some people that we trust implicitly.

They are our closest friends and family members.

We tell them (almost) everything, and lay ourselves bear.

Other friends and family we don’t go so deep, but still have strong, trusting relationships.

Other friends and family we don’t go very deep at all, but still enjoy plenty of common ground and a good relationship.

The rest of the people we ‘know’ are acquaintances. Transient. Passing.

The problem is at work, if we are honest, a lot of the time our relationships fall into the ‘acquaintances’ box.

So it’s not about going down to the deepest point.

It’s just about getting deep enough to build some genuine trust and move away from transactional acquaintances.

3. The better the relationship, the easier the difficult conversation

The real question here was does a strong relationship undermine our ability to make a tough call, have a tough conversation, or make a tough decision?

Ironically we decided that actually it would make all of those things easier.

Trust helps stops tough conversations and decisions becoming personal.

It helps people genuinely see each others’ point of view, and find a win-win solution.

It helps us cut the cr@p, talk about what is really going on, and move forward quickly.

So what next?

There may be that 1 time in 1,000 when you feel your relationship at work is maybe too close.

But for the other 999 times your relationships have helped you influence a better outcome.

So is it really worth holding back?

It strikes me as the upside potential of strong relationships far outweighs any downside risk.

So if you want to increase your influence as a business partner, it all starts with relationships.

How strong are yours and how can you improve them?

The best way is to go for a coffee and find common ground on a personal level.

Do that by opening up, being yourself, and dare I say it showing some vulnerability.

You may be amazed at the difference it makes.

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