Getting to Text

I was texting with my friend Mike McNerney recently about something mundane – he had extended an invite to an event that I was organizing to one of his professional contacts, and I was checking to see if she had confirmed her status.

She had not, he informed me – but he said he’d sent her a text to confirm.  And then he jokingly coined a phrase that struck me as deeply profound: “Getting to Text.”

The Intimacy of the Medium

Every medium of communication has its implicit level of intimacy.  Emailing a colleague’s Gmail account feels more personal than emailing them at work.  I curate my Facebook friends far more than my LinkedIn connections. I have dinner frequently with good friends who I originally met in a professional context, but only a handful of them have ever been inside my house.

Getting to text isn’t just about having someone’s phone number – it’s about having their permission to use it.   Any two strangers can connect on LinkedIn or exchange an email, but getting to text is earned. It means your relationship has reached a new level.

While email is a neutral zone, ‘getting to text’ takes a comfort level that few professional relationships rarely reach.  We often measure the status of our personal relationships by how comfortable we are with the other person: our best friends are those with whom we can confide just about anything.  Our strongest relationships are ones that can withstand the stresses of time and distance. With friends, we let our guards down and grant ourselves permission to be our authentic self.

But that’s not often the case at work.  We often put on airs and hold things closer to the vest than we might with people met in a non-professional context.  And of course there’s good reason for this: what makes your friends laugh may make someone else feel unsafe, and personal/professional boundaries must be drawn and respected.

How we communicate is a symbol of how comfortable we are with the other person.  Insecurity is supported by formality, whereas those who are truly comfortable with the strength of their relationship can afford to risk some informal gaffes.

If you can break down the walls of formality in a relationship – to mutually transcend a purely professional relationship and become vulnerable, trustworthy, and interested in one another as people (and not just as proxies for a company) then everything changes.

A Strong Relationships Simmers

Of all the deals I’ve worked on in my career, the ones that sailed the smoothest were the ones where that personal connection between my counterpart was strong.  And in many cases, that relationship that we both invested in building (originally for the sake of a business transaction) became a foundational relationship that extended long past our tenure at the companies that brought us together.  As my career has grown, those strong relationships will continue to help open doors and provide a mutual exchange of value. Like the flavor of a winter stew that tastes better after a few days in the fridge, a strong relationship gets richer with time.

A relationship is a stew made from exchanged value, shared respect, and proactive helpfulness.  As it simmers over time it becomes more potent and complex. A great relationship can feed you for a long time.  Not every relationship will have the right combination of ingredients it needs to break through, but those that do will keep you happy, satisfied, and warm throughout a long career.

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