Here’s a different approach to client intimacy

I read about Arthur Aron’s study in the New York Times about a month ago.

It’s entitled The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. That’s a bit of a mouthful. The ‘asking questions to fall in love’ experiment seems more apt.

Aron’s study showed that people felt closer after a self-disclosure experience – where they simply sat together for about an hour sharing the answers to 36 personal questions. This got me thinking about client intimacy and the advantages that brings. Perhaps self-disclosure could be used as a strategy for improving client relationships.

The experiment: Does self-disclosure improve client relationships?

The idea of business relationships getting personal is uncomfortable for some people because they have a professional facade to protect. This month I’m experimenting to find out how best to break though that barrier. If you decide to join in just think of it as your own field research, based on the premise from Aron’s study.

Why’s this important?

When we’re doing consultative work it’s easy to get trapped following the process, or focusing on technical work. Relationships then become transactional and we risk being seen as hired hands. When that happens trust levels suffer. This is critical. A high level of trust nearly always leads to better collaboration, more influence and faster decision-making.

Are you ready to experiment with this? If so, these ideas and questions may be useful.

Ideas to get you started.

Idea #1: Get yourself, and your client, into the right state. So far I’ve found the easiest way is to change your usual meeting place. Move to somewhere less formal, perhaps inviting them out for breakfast, or coffee. Why do you think executive teams hold offsite meetings? Hint: Its not about the strategy.

Idea #2: Remember a conversation is two-way. I’ve also found it’s best to keep it natural and weave the questions into the small talk. Just chose just 2–3 questions you feel comfortable with, start with those, listen, stay flexible, and see how it goes.

Idea #3: Be yourself. We all have some form of professional facade. See what it feels like to drop your defences and allow clients inside. I’ve made better connections when I speak about and let others inquire into my world view. You don’t need to disclose everything, just be present and self aware. Notice how clients respond to your words. Notice how you respond to their presence.

Idea #4: Take it slowly. In this Fast Company article Aron is reported as saying that the effect is based not just on reciprocal self- disclosure, but on gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure.

5 personal life questions 

  1. Do you have any siblings? Are you alike?
  2. Is there something you’d like to do in life that you’ve not got around to yet?
  3. Do you have any pets?
  4. Who have been influential role models for you?
  5. Do you like to get up early, or stay up late?

5 personal agenda questions.

  1. What would you like to achieve at work, that really stands out?
  2. What would an ideal day at work look like for you?
  3. What do you feel most grateful for at work?
  4. If you could change anything about your career, what would it be?
  5. What is the greatest accomplishment in your career so far?

In summary

The path to influence is Know-Like-Trust. You don’t have to be your client’s best friend. Knowing about each other leads to more intimacy. Try the experiment for a few weeks. Let me know how it works for you.