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During the end-of-year holiday period, many of us will find ourselves at traditional social events. During such socially-focused periods, we spend less time with business contacts and more time with family, friends and social acquaintances. If that includes people with whom we also wish to do business, it can raise the Social Dilemma: How do you pursue the opportunities that relaxed conversation often reveals without taking unfair advantage of the friendship or occasion?  

Separation is the key.  Follow these six steps to gracefully and reliably initiate business discussions with friends or social acquaintances -- without awkwardness or risk to your personal relationship.

  1. Presumably, you know at least a little about what they do for a living. Show interest. If they own a business, ask the standard "How's business?" Or, if they're an employee, "How's work?"
  2. Probe to identify "pain issues" with which you might be able to help. Demonstrate relevance by asking questions that show that you have real knowledge about such problems. Most people, particularly those who already know you, will ask your opinion, and may even solicit advice.
  3. When the discussion shifts to particulars, i.e., possible solutions, acknowledge that you have helped others with similar problems, and suggest categories or types of approaches. Don't, however, offer specific advice.
  4. Cut off discussion of specifics with a gracious recognition that you're together for social reasons, that you don't wish to monopolize discussion or your guest's time, but that you are very interested in talking more about ways to solve the problem.
  5. Suggest a phone call, business lunch, or office meeting to explore the problem some more, with possible dates, to be confirmed by telephone the next (business) day.
  6. Follow up immediately to get a specific appointment.

Mike O'Horo

For a detailed tutorial on how to manage such sensitive interactions, get the RainmakerVT course, Safely Transform Social Relationships Into Business Relationships.