Are clients true friends?

It all started with a discussion about a last minute request that I posted on my blog. I shared the story of Mary and Janice, who disagree about why a project went so wrong and whose fault that was.

I knew that working with friends was I hard topic for some solopreneurs.  But I had no idea the conversation would spark over 20 comments in a Linkedin group.  You can read the fascinating, thoughtful comments here.

Are clients true friends?

Does a client become your friend just because they hired you?  I plucked that from the Linkedin conversation. Mary had gotten friendly with her client, Janice, over time.  How many times has that happened to you?  Someone hires you, you hit it off and before long, you’re like two peas in a pod. Somehow the line between friend and client got completely blurred.

That’s the real problem in the story.  Mary and Janice weren’t clear about which relationship or role they were in: friends or client to assistant?  Janice turned to her friend for help, which meant she had a  different set of expectations about what would happen (i.e. she’ll take care of me).  After all, friends don’t let friends fail, right?

Mary responded as a friend, offering her help right away.  She didn’t take into account her own needs as a provider or set expectations as a business owner.  She expected to be treated like a friend and was pretty upset when Janice questioned her abilities like clients sometimes do.  Both women are off track.

Friend or Not?

The question isn’t are we friends or not?  Relationships are rarely so black and white.  The question that’s most helpful in this situation is: What do you want me to be to you now?

If Mary had been more self aware, she might have  recognized that Janice’s request pulled her friendship ‘trigger’, making her act differently.  Then she could have asked Janice an important question that would have reduced the chance for a misunderstanding:

Do you want me to act as your friend or as your assistant?

There’s a difference.  We treat our friends differently when they are clients.  We hold friends to a higher standard.  It was very telling that in the Linkedin discussion no one had to explain how friends treat each other.  It was assumed.  And, you know the old saying about assuming, right?  This is a place to decide how you want to interact when working with friends or clients who become friends.

Have you worked out where you stand on friends?  Are your clients automatically your friends?  And what does that mean for your work?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

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