I’m a Consultant and This is My Relationship Advice

One of my many blog readers or “bleaders” as I call them, suggested I talk about how the Pandemic might have changed our view on relationships.

What has been the impact of lockdowns and quarantines on our relationships? Are work colleagues less or more interesting on Zoom? Why do girls think I’m more attractive when I’m wearing a mask?

Well, I’ve been a consultant for more than 3 decades and I’ve learned not just a thing, but a thing or two.

Here’s my advice.

Your relationships are not defined by your communication channel.

Is your mom somehow less of your mom if you talk to her by Zoom instead of seeing her in person? No. So why do you think your other personal or business relationships are different due to online interaction as opposed to face-to-face contact.

The Pandemic hasn’t changed our relationships, it’s simply pushed us from one communication channel to another.

Now, instead of making up a lie about how our wife texted us to come home from the bar (when we really just want to go to sleep) we can make up a lie about our WiFi going out instead.

Relationship – know thyself.

As we begin a new year, we often reassess our relationships with people, asking ourselves, “If I started all over, would my relationships be the same?”. All of us have enjoyed a new person entering our lives. At the same time, we have to admit we’ve “fired” a friend occasionally too.

This isn’t a terrible thing. As people, we have limited time and energy. We can’t be everything to everyone. We can’t always be there. Our empathy, our capacity to interact and support each other is finite.

Don’t beat yourself up over this natural prioritization. Also, don’t beat others up when they do it to you. You don’t know all the things going on in their life behind the scenes. Cut’em some slack.

As we age (well not me and Paul Rudd) but you, people enter and leave our lives. We can’t expect our relationships to stay static since our lives are not static.

Context – the frame around your relationship.

My long-suffering wife, Martha and I once met two of our best friends in the back of a pickup. It’s not what you think. Keep reading.

After an hours long 3rd world bus ride from Bangkok, Thailand to the border of Thailand and Cambodia (final destination Siem Reap, Cambodia), we were dropped off near the border between these two fine countries. By “near” I mean several miles.

The “company” transporting us, decided not to take us all the way to the border and asked for more money to complete the trip.

Unfortunately, the company didn’t realize that a nice French couple and us would become instant best friends, reminding (negotiating?) (screaming?) (threatening?) the company that they were obliged to take us all the way to the border. Winning this argument, we high-fived our new best friends, laughing at our success as we were driven the final few miles. #BFF! #winning

Until we got out of the truck and never saw them again.

The point? Many of our relationships are defined by the situation. We know someone from the truck, the bar, the tradeshow, the opium den.

This isn’t a negative thing, it’s simply a reality.

For many of us, the Pandemic disrupted the normal context of our relationships. We didn’t see colleagues at the office. We didn’t drink with friends at the tradeshow. We didn’t meet with clients, members, doctors, lawyers, masseuses, mechanics, zookeepers, waitresses, actuaries, bartenders, or anyone else.

We were “safe” at home, with our loved ones. In my case my wife, this recently meant listening to her elegant, almost lyrical string of profanity as she sought to navigate the “intuitive” login process of her corporate training module.

Good times.

Be aware of how the context surrounding your relationships is changing, like shifting sands, so you can make the necessary adjustments in your own life.

From rubbing elbows to realizing reach.

Historically, we often entered into or defined our relationships by our face-to-face or personal contact.

We met at bars, coffee shops, conferences, other bars, the liquor store, or bars. Meeting places that have served us well for generations.

The Pandemic forced us to create and maintain our relationships digitally. Well, why is that a terrible thing?

Digital communication channels meant it was easier to connect, understand and empathize with people.

I grew up with three best friends. Tom, Greg, and Andy have been part of my life since birth for Tom and Greg and about 4th grade for Andy. We’ve gone to school together. We’ve been on sports teams and in music performances. We’ve been at times, roommates, dated the same girls, skipped out on the same restaurant bills, laughed, cried, puked and spent the odd night in jail together.

Well over the span of more than ½ a century, we’ve also gotten our own, and very different lives – wives (sometimes two), dogs, kids, houses, jobs, etc.

The Pandemic gave us an incentive to reconnect. We sought the comfort of the familiar and connected virtually. We set up a regular Zoom call and compared the notes of our lives, laughing about old times. The four of us talked more during the spring of 2020 than in the previous 10 years. It was awesome! Just in time too, since our friend Andy (RIP my friend), died that summer.

The shift to virtual contact allows you to reach people more easily and personally than ever before. You see their house or dog. You can laugh with them while their naked 4-year-old climbs the bookshelf near their desk (true story), or the Board member gets out of her hotel room bed (taking the Board Zoom from vacation) and forgets she’s in her underwear (also true).

We’ve all shared a virtual cocktail, laughed, cried, and told stories now over a virtual platform.

The expansion of digital or virtual connection is a feature of our new relationship world, not a bug.

Separating the situational from the undeniable.

Prior to the Pandemic, many of us enjoyed work relationships founded on face-to-face. We saw people at the office or at the tradeshow. Seldom though, did we pierce the veil of their lives. Ask yourself, of all the people at your office prior to the Pandemic, how many did you see at their or your house?

We create relationships every day. From the café, “How long have you been in line?”, to our Uber driver, “What’s that smell?”. The human condition creates these relationships. They are often situational and spontaneous.

The Pandemic reminded us of the difference between the situational and the undeniable relationships in our lives.

We found the camaraderie of our work colleagues comforting as we all navigated the uncertainty and fear of the Pandemic.

We discovered our family (however you define family) was critical to our lives.

We were surprised to discover who sought us out during the Pandemic. We, in turn, surprised others when we initiated the contact.

My wife and I saw more of each other in a year than in the previous three. We weren’t just bound by the contractual obligations of marriage by the State of Illinois, we found we actually liked each other.

The point? The Pandemic reminded me, by eliminating the “noise” of constant travel, how foundational my wife was to me and my life. Everything is easier with her in it, regardless of how often we see each other. Regardless of how often we bicker. Regardless that our primary communication method is emojis and baby goat videos.

All of us at some point during the Pandemic came to the realization that some people were there for us in ways that were vital. The Pandemic gave us that knowledge.

Are you the root or the seed?

I’ve been active in the association profession for nearly 40 years. While I wouldn’t say I’m “beloved”, I’ve created a pretty epic global network of people none of you have heard about or care if you meet.

Well, during a recent client gig, we talked about the challenges forming a professional network if you’re new. Maybe you haven’t been with the organization for long. You’ve never had the chance to bond over drinks or go to the conference This is particularly challenging for those of you who are younger, or just entering the profession.

Well, you’ll get face to face opportunities again. You have all the digital tools available too.

The real question? Are you the root of a community or a seed?

The root helps bind the plant, your community, in place. It holds it firm against the blowing winds or the shifting sands.

The seed, blows on the wind or extends into other parts of the yard, extending the community to other places, helping the community grow.

You can be either or both. Good luck.

Home is about people not places.

My wife and I had a great conversation the other day. Honestly, this was just one of many, we’re quite knowledgeable and interesting. Our discussion this time focused on the question, “Where is home?”.

We’ve spent years traveling. This has limited our ability to participate in local community organizations. We don’t have kids, so although we’re happy, rich, and young looking, we have no connection to local schools.

Our friends also traveled. I would often see my Chicago friends in DC. Our friends, family and colleagues are also moving due to the a) pandemic, b) kids d) jobs e) other.

Place, in our minds, was becoming less well defined.

Our Pandemic discovery? We need to focus on people, not places. The old phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” reminds us, it’s always been about the people, not the house, the office or the tradeshow or restaurant.

That’s what the Pandemic taught us. It’s about the people.

BONUS CONTENT – Many of you read and commented on my December 2020 Blog, What Deer Hunting Taught Me About Strategy. This blog documented all the things I learned by conducting my first solo deer hunt. Well friends and readers, this year I returned to Deer Camp with friends. I was successful again, harvesting the largest buck I’ve ever shot. Well, it took 3 of us nearly 3 hours to get this deerosaurus out of the woods and hung in the barn. The lessons? First, every job regardless of the size often requires the same competencies. Second, the bigger the job, the more your team becomes necessary for success.

Just some thoughts from My Seat at the Bar.