Friendship and humor – but we don’t like these people that much

We’ve developed some really great relationships with people we’ve done business with over the years. Trust, friendship and helping one another out has led to respect and warmth, and you can’t put a price on that.

champagne and tuxedo

Some time ago Dave and I were having dinner with a long-time business associate and his wife. We had enjoyed a long and very positive working relationship that had transcended work and become a wonderful personal friendship as well. We had gone to one of our associate’s favorite restaurants, and we were having a good catch-up after not seeing each other for some time. In the midst of our conversation the waiter interrupted us and whispered in our host’s ear. Without hesitating, our host said, “You’re out of the champagne that we’ve been drinking? How much is that champagne anyway?” The waiter tried to discreetly respond but our host would have none of it and said in a loud voice, “$100? But we don’t like these people that much.”

It was so spontaneous that Dave and I just burst out laughing. We could barely speak because we were laughing so hard. Our host’s wife was mortified and admonished her husband in a playfully stern way. Our host was very pleased with himself for his quick wit and the reaction that it received. Another bottle soon appeared, and we carried on with a fun night of dinner and discussion.

Good fun

We enjoy a good joke, particularly on ourselves. In this case, we knew that there was nothing mean about the comment, and in fact, it was funny because it was said right in front of us. The waiter was momentarily embarrassed and unsure what to do next – until he caught on that the comment was made in good fun and was intended to be outrageous.

A trusting relationship

The point for Dave and me really was the strength of the relationship that had developed from business and the easy way in which we could interact over a long period of time – to the point of jokingly insulting us. We could be forthright and direct in business because our relationship was built on trust, and that trust relationship had come from consistent behavior and experience from our interactions over a good number of years.

Lending a hand

In fact, on many levels Dave and I knew that this work associate liked us not just a little, but a lot. A number of years earlier he had made a call to us, indicating that he was about to go out of business if he was unable to get a fairly sizable amount of cash in just a few short days. Dave and I went to our bank and borrowed what we could in order to prepay product purchases from his company well beyond what we would normally buy. This plus similar efforts of another company was enough to keep his company afloat through a challenging time. After that his business really took off and he never looked back.

Doing the right thing

Some may wonder why we would do such a thing for someone who then didn’t do anything tangible or specific for us. He didn’t give us any shares in his company. He didn’t give us preferred pricing on products. He didn’t elevate us in status in any way. Our simple answer has always been the same – it seemed to be the right thing at the time. If his company had gone out of business, our business would have been imperiled, and we couldn’t allow that to happen. Even with the benefit of hindsight, we still believe that it was the right thing to do. We know we did a good and substantial thing for our friend’s business, and we helped ourselves in the process.

No point in keeping score

This gets to a fundamental that Dave and I believe in – a price isn’t always exacted for everything that we do for others in business, nor is there a price to be paid by others for the things that they do or don’t do with, for or to us. Business is a long game, and the day-to-day score just doesn’t tell the full story. We don’t need to be fully paid up in our relationships as we move through business and life. In fact, we don’t really care about the minute-by-minute score. It is the way that we play the game and how we feel about the interactions that we have with people over the long term that are most important to us. We expect that things balance out in strong relationships even if the relationship looks lopsided at points in time.

We have liked and respected so many of the people with whom we have done and currently do business, and in the end, you really can’t put a price on that. Not even $100.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.