Thriving in any Business Environment: Building Authentic Relationships

Jeff Borschowa
Posted by Jeff Borschowa on May 13, 2021 8:41:43 AM

I sat in uncomfortable silence. Across the restaurant table from me was my mentor. He was also the managing partner of “The Firm.” He had his checkbook out, pen at the ready. His question still hung awkwardly in the air.… ”Name your price. What will it take for you to tear up your resignation letter and stay with us?”

He had clearly had many of these conversations before. All of them revolving around the same “difficult” partner. This particular partner was a top producer, and he did that by working his staff hard. That is not uncommon in accounting firms, but he also had a mean streak and enjoyed belittling the staff that reported to him.

Neither I nor the managing partner wanted to be in the restaurant that day. It was not our best lunch together.

My response made our conversation even more awkward. “I don’t want more money; I want to be treated with respect and I want to work less. I would like to cap my hours at sixty per week outside of busy season."

My mentor closed his checkbook, sadly, and sighed. “We can’t do that; it sets a bad precedent. We cannot give you special treatment. If we do this for you, we will have to do it for everyone. I wish you all the best in your career.”

I thanked him for lunch and made my excuses. I had to get back to a desk piled high with mountains of unfinished work with unrealistic deadlines. Truthfully, I was relieved that he didn’t stick me with the bill for lunch.

Side note, I later learned that The Firm had to hire three people to handle my workload.

I share the story of my uncomfortable lunch to highlight a critical point. Accounting firms often make the mistake of being transactional with the very people most important to their ongoing success. This includes vendors, employees, and clients. Being transactional can have very tangible costs (i.e., hiring three to replace one or having to spend marketing dollars to replace a client who leaves your firm) which are easily avoidable. There are also intangible costs.

Relationships matter in business. Have you ever worked for a difficult client? Have you ever dealt with an uncooperative vendor? Have you ever had a disgruntled employee? Perhaps, more importantly, have you ever been the difficult client? The uncooperative vendor? The disgruntled employee?  All of the above

Could you have improved any of these situations if you had focused on building authentic relationships?

When you are transactional rather than relational, you can expect to see very different outcomes as you will see in the table below. 





High turnover

High loyalty


Poor service

Excellent service


Fee sensitive

Appreciate value


Taking a quick look at this table, which outcomes do you prefer?

  • How much revenue do you lose, or additional costs do you incur, by being transactional?
  • How much could you and your business benefit from building authentic relationships based on mutual respect and trust?

Fear not, you can make positive changes today to focus on relationships.

Building Authentic Relationships is a choice you can make right now that will reduce employee turnover, increase service levels from vendors, and encourage your clients to appreciate the value that you bring. 

Here are five practices that you can implement right now to help you build authentic relationships:

1. Clarify your intentions - the starting point for Building Authentic Relationships is to be clear on your intentions for the interaction. Do you want transactional interactions or meaningful relationships? Your intentions for each interaction will determine how you show up.
2. Build positive energy through better questions - ask questions such as: What do you like most about your role? What is the best part of your day? What are you most passionate about? Questions like these can trigger the empathetic domain of our brains, taking us from task-focused to relationship focused.
3. Use positive labels - find and use positive labels to describe those you deal with regularly. Appreciate positive qualities and don’t focus on the negatives. Don’t let negative labels or judgements get in the way of Building Authentic Relationships. For example, someone who asks a lot of questions can be seen as either annoying or curious. Which sounds more positive to you?
4. Listen with both ears - pay full attention to what others say to you. Pay attention to more than just their words, pay attention to their body language and underlying emotions. Reflect back what you understand of the conversation to the other person. Make sure they feel both valued and understood.
5. Be open to being vulnerable - share something personal about your goals, dreams, fears, etc. to encourage others to share with you. This builds trust and opens up communication channels.

Authenticity and trust in relationships is critical for performance and team results.  Building Authentic Relationships is good for business!

Practice asking yourself after critical interactions, are you Building Authentic Relationships or being transactional if you find yourself struggling with your colleagues, vendors, or clients.

Pick one relationship today and see what you can do to improve it.  Do the same tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.  How will that impact you and your business?

Topics: Client Experience


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