Saying ‘No’ Starts with Your Friends

Saying ‘No’ Starts with Your Friends

Saying ‘No’ Starts with Your Friends

Let’s discuss an important, barely discussed, and uncomfortable truth: friends who are service providers.  

  • Maybe you went to school together. Pretty weak. 
  • Maybe you both surf. Weak, but interesting. 
  • Maybe you worked together. Better. Tell me more. 
  • Maybe you met and developed a she-mance at some founder round-up event. Potentially OK, unless the first conversation you had, and every other one, was about their area of expertise. 

The first three are ‘friends.’ The former colleague may even be a close friend.  

The last person, though, is simply a businessperson who networked into your heart. They’re not your friend. Think about it. Think about it again. Honestly, though, this friendly non-friend is your best foil with which to understand the enormous risk posed by letting friendship permit irrational levels of trust in a service offering.  

Most of you understand that the non-friend needs to be vetted beyond the ‘feeling’ created in your idle event-related chit chat.  

So why do so many founders just trust that their ‘friend’ a) can do what they promise to do and b) that they will respect you as a client?  

We’re afraid to impose a screening process on our friends. It seems disrespectful. The reality underneath is that client-provider relationships are hierarchical. Friendships are not. It’s disrespectful to inject hierarchical thinking into a flat social relationship. It could easily end it or inject permanent bad feelings.  

Therein lies the big confusion when tempted to hire a ‘friend’ with the skills you need. The social contexts in which you formed your friendship are NOT the equivalent of the one you’re now contemplating: a professional working relationship.  

One way to hire the friend is to bring them on as a partner, perhaps equity-for-service. Don’t get too excited, though, because very few service providers are wealthy enough to do this…or they would be investors. Think about it.  

Since the partner/friend alignment is very unlikely to be of interest to your service providing friend, you are left with saying ‘no’ to working with your friend. 

This is honestly the best default advice I can give regarding any service provider. Don’t hire friends with skills. The one exception might be family members. Why? Because you’re used to forgiving kinfolk for fucking up. Friends tend to get cut by most of us. They’re not valuable enough socially to forgive. Sorry, but it’s how our minds tend to operate. 

Don’t be surprised if your ‘friend’ doesn’t take direction well or starts challenging your assumptions without you inviting the challenge. Friendship is a flat relationship. Deference isn’t part of the package. 

And beware of the fake friend-as-service-provider. They will blow hot air over the dwindling coals of an old friendship card to gain emotional access but then exploit it to try to assert control over your assumptions and business. This is simply a predatory service provider impulse using friendship theater to turn you into a case study for them. PR professionals are notorious for this conniving approach, but it’s not unique to them.  

Look, we all had that one college room-mate who was fun to drink with but we’d never want to live with again. Well, hiring your friend with skills is a more adult version of the same issue. Find someone else to help and take your ‘friend’ out for drinks instead. You’ll thank me 95% of the time. 

Dr. James Richardson

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