Last night I spent 3 hours over dinner with a group of businessmen I am getting to know. We get together for dinner every 2 months to discuss how business effects our lives. We are all successful in our business life and want to make sure we are also successful as human beings. Our discussion topic last night was ‘friendship’. It is always a great forum with a range of personalities, experience and backgrounds ensuring there is a lot of wisdom shared. The reflections shared in this article are mine but inspired by last night’s conversation.
A friendship is a relationship that is not just work-dependent
We have lots of relationships in business. What distinguishes a friend from a business colleague, a workmate, or a great connection? For me, a friend is someone I also spend social time with outside of work-related activity. Many people have good and even close relationships with work colleagues but if those ‘work friends’ do not know where you live or have any contact with you outside of work, then that relationship is work dependent. If you or they leave the company the relationship is likely to fade out.
‘Work-friends’ are great and important people in our lives. They can be important and influential. However, they do not really know the real you. They may never meet your partner or children. They see you and know you in work mode. Maybe during Covid lockdowns they saw your home-office (in the dining room) and snippets of your personal world (e.g., when your dog barks loudly) on a video call, but that is the extent of their broader knowledge of you.
A friend is someone you feel free to call to ask them to come and help you with something – important and unimportant stuff.
A friend is someone you like and trust enough to allow them to get to know you more closely. Someone who can read you well and ca see behind your mask (I think we all wear masks sometimes). For someone to know you well they need to be able to spend significant amounts of time with you in situations where you are free to be yourself. For some (perhaps most) of us, the main place we spend time with people is at work. Lunches and drinks after work are usually where we get to know people. Letting down the mask and really getting to know a work colleague can happen. And some of those closer work relationships last beyond both of you working in the same company. Most of my closer friendships come through multiple connections – business, church, some shared experiences, and/or being involved with a sport we both love.
Men often drift out of friendships
Friendships from school days sometimes last a lifetime if there is ongoing opportunity for connection. Often, we grow in different directions and at different paces and that can make it harder to stay close. Marriage and starting a family are often the points where it all becomes too challenging to keep investing the time required for friendships to stay strong. Many men seem to drift out of friendships. With the busyness of work and home life, it can be a year between connecting. Then the relationship becomes based on memories which can get old and lose appeal. More like a reunion than a friendship. Sometimes old friendships become hard if your partner does not like your friend. Overall, I think the biggest factor for many men not having friends is the lack of time to invest.
Friendship requires some effort
Most guys seem to expect friendship to be a natural thing that just happens, rather than something you must be intentional about. In a busy life a friendship that takes work is not so appealing. Many men envy women who seem to do friendship much more naturally. At our dinner we discussed that simple things like adding to your schedule to remember to call a certain friend on your drive home can be the difference between growing a friendship or allowing it to drift. We agreed that most of us need to be more intentional about making time to cultivate and grow friendships.
My challenge is to be a better friend rather than just looking for others to be my friend.
My takeaway from our dinner conversation is that I need to work at being a better friend to those in my inner circle. I recognise that I can connect well with almost anyone, which works well for networking and business relationships in general. However, I do not build closer bonds easily. This requires me to be a bit vulnerable and to share my needs as well as my strengths. It also requires me to be more intentional and follow through with regular texts or phone calls to check in with my friends. Not a great strength of mine. I am usually busy doing my stuff – work or family related.
Friendships seem to go deeper when we can admit we need something and reach out and ask for advice or some time to talk through a problem. This can happen on the golf course while doing something enjoyable, but it takes a risk to go a little deeper.
There is a longing for friendship that goes deeper
This was not universally shared around our table last night. Some say they are quite happy having lots of connections and being friendly to everyone. Others admitted a longing for one or two friends with whom they could build close connection and share their hearts freely. Research tells us that 25 percent of 30 to 65-year-old men have no one outside their immediate family they feel they can rely on. A lack of friendship support is one of the reasons men can struggle when they hit a bigger issue in their lives. It is one of the factors behind the male suicide rate of 6 men per day in Australia.
A Business Mentor can help.
Being a business owner or a leader in a corporate role can be lonely. When you are passionate about your work and give it all you’ve got, it can be isolating. Achieving business success MUST be done in a context of success in life. One of the things that makes us feel successful is to have a few good friends to share the journey. It is important to make some relationship spaces in your life for friends. This may require rethinking and re-ordering your life.
Perhaps this article is a trigger for you to start thinking about how you are building your life as a businessperson. One of the things I do with my mentoring clients is to help them review (audit) their life. It is a good thing to do at least every 10 years. To maximise every season of life a ‘whole of life’ audit is a great place to start. As you make the time to re-envision your life you will find refreshment and renewal as well. Helping business owners and corporate executives to create an unfolding vision for their lives and a strategic plan to implement is some of the most important work I do.
If you would like to have a free no obligation conversation about your situation and how I may be able to help you, please click this link.