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Purposeful Planning – Something Off-Topic…

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Forgive me, dear MPI Ottawa friends, but this instalment of Purposeful Planning is going a bit off-topic this month. This column is about a subject that most meeting industry professionals encounter or likely have encountered in their career – but we never talk about: the lines that can and do get crossed when a client or business colleague becomes a friend.

First, a bit of background:

Years ago when my husband Heinz and I both worked in the hotel industry, he confronted me about a conversation I’d had with a client of mine. It was someone I had worked with on several occasions. We were both MPI Members and sat on the same committee, which of course meant we’d shared meals and socialized! When this client eventually met my husband about an event she was planning at his hotel, she referenced a conversation we’d had. It’s important for you to know at this point that Heinz was the Executive Chef at a competitive hotel.

This conversation was not about business but about some family matter – I hardly remember now frankly – but I recall vividly how shocked he was that I would discuss any personal situation with someone who wasn’t (in his opinion) a friend.

Heinz felt like I had broken some sort of confidentiality pledge, whereas I simply thought it was being friendly, like people often do at MPI. At most just a bit of “girl talk.” The issue probably never would have come to light had we not been in the same industry.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with his view that I should “never” mix personal stories with business, I saw his point that some stories could become a source of unwanted gossip since we shared clients, colleagues and even bosses – since, as we all know, people often moved from hotel to hotel!

I filed this away in my “lessons learned” mental folder. I never thought of it until recently when a business-colleague-turned-girlfriend described a sensitive business situation with another business-colleague-turned-girlfriend. I’ll call this friend “Tara” to protect her identity.

“I can’t tell her how I feel,” Tara insisted. “We’re friends.” Only to add minutes later, “But she really upset me. I don’t think I could ever do business with her again!”

There it was again: the fuzzy, sticky, murky world of mixing business and pleasure. Clients becoming friends. Doing business with friends.

Tara was afraid of “being a b*tch” just for expressing her displeasure at a very logical, black-and-white business situation. The fear of losing a friend was greater than the frustration she was feeling.

But was this other woman ever really a friend? I questioned myself, carefully not wanting to upset Tara any further. What are the dangers when a client or business colleague becomes a friend? Does this happen just with women or do guys experience this too, I wondered.

What is the definition of a true friend? Should we do business with friends?

I believe it all comes down to boundaries. What are our parameters for doing business with friends? What behaviour is OK and when does it cross the line?

These are conversations we must have with ourselves and with each other before we mix friendship and business!

Now I know some of you will point out that (ahem…) I ended up marrying a business colleague. Maybe we can leave that for another conversation? 🙂

What are your thoughts, dear readers?

Article Written By Doreen Ashton Wagner,

Article edited by Darlene Kelly-Stewart, Stonehouse Sales and Marketing Services