PR Briefing: As in dating, business relationships are all about trust

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the dating scene, but that’s not true for others in our office. Recently, while exchanging dating stories, it struck us how similar dating is to forming new business relationships.

Every relationship – both personally and professionally – requires a leap of faith. And the foundation of every relationship is trust.

To have a successful relationship, we must trust someone else. We’re hopeful they’ll make us happy and fulfill our dreams. And when they don’t, we’re disappointed. But we learn important lessons from every failed relationship, even if it takes a long time (and many pints of ice cream) to recognize them.

Is trusting a new business associate right away akin to getting intimate on a first date? We may be initially wary, but we eventually let down our guard, leaving ourselves vulnerable. When is it OK to start trusting someone?

I know a businesswoman who romanced a potential new client for almost a year. In addition to providing this company with the standard background information – capabilities, bios, references, etc. – she and her staff developed a clever, creative presentation that impressed the client, who hired her. They lived happily ever after … for about eight months.

Suddenly and inexplicably, the client stopped returning her calls and e-mails. My colleague was confused. Her team had provided exceptional service and the client had always praised their work. The client talked about the future with excitement, and the excitement always included my colleague’s company. Then, out of nowhere, they just disappeared.

After eight months of a successful, harmonious relationship, my colleague trusted her client. She believed she had no reason not to.

Rough patches

In business, like dating, first comes courtship. You share a nice meal, tell your funniest stories, compare backgrounds and get to know each other better.

You figure out if the chemistry is there. Is there a spark? Do you want to spend more time together? What are their goals? How do they treat others?

Over time, you learn more about their needs, preferences and strange little quirks. You become this person’s biggest cheerleader, No. 1 fan and most reliable sounding board … You’re in love!!!

But when is it “safe” to let down your guard? How can you tell if this relationship will be “the one,” built on respect, communication and willingness to compromise?

You’ll learn a lot about someone by how they handle the relationship’s rough spots.

Recently, I had two different clients who called me with concerns, both involving miscommunication. I welcomed their questions, explained how our agency works, and reminded them of our policies. I also recounted my perception of the work they’d asked us to do.

One of the clients took ownership of the misunderstanding, admitting that he hadn’t been clear when outlining the project parameters. We appreciated his honesty and willingness to talk through the problem. This relationship remains strong today.

The other client remained upset and refused to see any point of view besides her own. During our exchange, she grew increasingly angry, defensive, and condescending. It was clearly not a relationship worth saving, and we “broke up.” I wish her well and hope her business thrives, but it was time to go our separate ways.

When a relationship isn’t working, trust your gut. Perhaps you need something that they can’t give. Or the relationship has run its course and it’s time to move on.

The splits can be mutual, where you jointly agree to part ways, or they can be one-sided, but friendly: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Then there are the rocky relationships that keep you up at night, worrying about the drama. Your girlfriend is lying. Your client won’t return your calls. Your employee is spreading malicious gossip. You’re so upset that your stomach hurts.

Many of us know the stunned, heartbroken feeling at the end of a romantic relationship that suddenly implodes. Sometimes the end of a business relationship is just as traumatic. An executive brings a new manager into the company who inexplicably severs ties with their vendor. The rejected business associates, like jilted lovers, are left licking their wounds and wondering what went wrong.

While you may feel confused, frustrated – and even stupid! – for trusting the individual, either personally or professionally, once you’ve recovered from the initial shock, you’ll find valuable lessons that will help you navigate future endeavors.

Remember that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince.

Laurie J. Storey-Manseau owns StoreyManseau LLC, a Concord-based full-service marketing firm. She can be reached at 603-229-0278 or