How to Build Business Intimacy
Strong workplace communication can transform executives and their companies.
“Intimacy is at the heart of competence,” declares Max De Pree, former chairman of office furniture firm Herman Miller. In Leadership Is an Art, he explains, “Intimacy is the experience of ownership. This often arises out of difficulty or questions or exasperation….”
There are moments when we are called to reach out beyond the expected or superficial to the unknown in our business relationships. Gail Evans, the former CNN executive and author, has spoken of being invited as guest of honor to an event by the keynote speaker, a top business leader, who then told the hundreds in attendance how Gail contributed to her success by taking her aside early in her career to advise her that her white shoes after Labor Day were seen negatively by leadership in their organization.
Acts of intimacy distinguish us, impacting our relationships, our reputations and self-worth, and sometimes our organizations.
A client, head of sales, reached out to his customers in extensive interviews to understand what they valued and how his firm could improve. He was surprised to learn that his organization had been vastly underpositioning itself. He developed new marketing literature, a new sales strategy and sales conversation to correspond with the actual, higher value his firm provided. Delighted with the new copy and design, he decided to show the about-to-be-printed brochure to the CEO, who happened to be his father. His father hated it. He wanted fundamental changes. I reminded my client that his dad was not focusing on the audience he had identified and their concerns in making decisions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. I invited him to trust his own judgment. I asked him what would happen if he asked his dad to trust it. He did, and his father agreed. As a result of the great new message, salespeople felt empowered to approach higher-level decision-makers, and sales grew 25 percent. The father took his first long vacation in years. Soon, my client became CEO of the innovative organization.
A difficulty with his father became a turning point in their relationship, his career and his firm.
To be effective in a multinational or small business, we face day-to-day challenges that require us to take ownership—to ask the questions, say what others aren’t willing to say. Sustainable results involve bringing out the best in ourselves and others. To do that, we need to be able to speak candidly about what we are up to together. That will often mean turning-point conversations that require courage and intimacy.
To cultivate greater business intimacy among those you work with:
- Articulate your own values. Be hyper-observant when one is not being honored. Our values guide our choices and keep us focused during times of turbulence.
- If you lead an organization, are its stated values still valid? Do people demonstrate them in practice? If it’s not clear, involve your people in the process of reviewing or developing values and how they work. Use the values as a tool as you make and explain decisions.
- Coach your people to own the ultimate goal of whatever they are working on, so they are clear about their role.
- Take the time to understand what really matters to those you work with. This will allow you to have more genuine conversations.
Intimacy is not for the meek.
Jackie Sloane is an executive coach specializing in leadership communication. Her clients achieve greater satisfaction and results through how they and their teams communicate, engage others and cultivate relationships.