I Suck at Relationships. Why Should Business Be Any Different?


Franklin Taggart at the microphone with his earphones on, wearing his bakelite glasses and smiling.

Relationships are hard.

One of my supervisors used to say that when I did crisis intervention work. I believe it. The same theme has frequently emerged in recent conversations with friends and clients. We've noticed similarities as the relationship patterns from personal and family life play out in career and business situations. And why wouldn't they?

The challenges I face in marketing, selling, and delivering in my business have the same root as the challenges I have as a spouse, dad, son, and brother.  That root is me. But I'm no longer labeling it as a problem. I just have gotten okay with not being great at relationships.

"...it's become most important to just acknowledge all the ways I suck at relationships."

I'm old enough to have read a lot of books, taken a lot of classes, attended plenty of weekend seminars, encountered encounter groups, and tried every way I know how to be better at it. But at almost 62 years old, I've decided that my odds for improvement seem to grow slimmer with each passing year. And it's become most important to just acknowledge all the ways I suck at relationships. And those realizations and acknowledgments apply to my career and businesses as well. 

I like people fine, as long as we don't have to spend much time together.

In the midst of all of this, it's important to mention that just because I'm not a natural in these circumstances doesn't mean I can't participate. I have relationships and businesses in spite of my personality. I haven't been excluded just because I'm not talented. It's also important to say that in spite of the scary odds, I've enjoyed many moments of satisfaction and, dare I say, joy in my relationships and business. You don't have to be good at something to be able to love it. Continued after the video and audio...

I wonder how many of you might be thinking, "But you seem like such a nice guy"?

I come across that way publicly, but I have to confess it's mostly an act. More than 90 percent of the time, I prefer not to be around other people. That has been true most of my life. I like the freedom and potential of solitude. That is a sense that I lose when others are around. I am the last to arrive and the first to leave every meeting, party, event, show, bar mitzvah, you name it. If you see me there, it's safe to assume I've been talked into going.

You're free to believe that it's due to some unresolved childhood trauma. I've tried to work from that angle, too, but those traumas must still be actively sabotaging everything positive about my life. You're also welcome to believe that my wound is my niche if that's helpful. I would still rather eat fire ants than make small talk in a networking meeting. But I'm delighted to say I have found ways to make it work. I don't have time to give you a comprehensive deep dive into my psyche. Not that you would ever want to take such a trip. But here are a few highlights.

Challenge #1: Compulsive Approval Seeking

Yes, I want to be liked. And I'll unconsciously do or say anything to make you like me. I'll tell jokes, sing songs, wear a tutu, and exhaust myself forward and back, trying to get your approval. One of the reasons I don't like being in public is that I don't like how this pattern feels. I think I have started to care less about it as I've gotten older. But old habits don't die. The song and dance unpacks itself.

One unpleasant way this pattern appears in my business is by putting energy into maintaining inauthentic appearances. In other words, lying. I mold myself into what I think other people want me to be. I don't show them and tell them what's real. As a result, any actual connection we make is under false pretenses or accidental. In the long run, the truth will come out, and there will be a can of worms to sort out.

The adaptation: notice the early warning signs - the feeling of anxiety or concern about their reactions. Give myself time to recognize that I'm starting the approval-seeking cycle. Then be as honest in the following moments as I possibly can. I've even come out and told people that I was starting to worry if they liked me or not. After the strange looks, they seem to appreciate my candor. And I'm far from competent in this strategy. Relationships are hard.

Challenge #2: Not Trusting People

As much as I'd like to think I'm able to accept people as they are and let them make their own decisions, I have to admit that in the deepest regions of my soul, I just don't trust them. The way I see this poking into my awareness is when I feel myself shifting into a manipulative pattern, trying to control THEIR thinking. I've become masterful at doing other people's thinking for them. I can make their decision well before they even know they are being offered a decision to make. 

In business, this plays out as a tendency to construct a negative default scenario in my head and turn that into the "truth" of the situation. And then I can avoid taking any meaningful action because I've already convinced myself that it won't work because I already know what they are thinking. But all I really am aware of is what I THINK they are thinking. This isn't a great marketing strategy. No real conversations ever happen.

The adaptation: Give them my full attention and listen. There is something almost magical about listening deeply. Mutual trust develops naturally if I drop any agenda I might have and simply allow people the safe space to be seen, heard, and understood. Dropping the need to manipulate releases me from all that thinking, both mine and theirs. Then I'm liberated to be present with them. Trust is a natural result. And if they don't want to talk, I can be fine with that. Relationships are hard.

Challenge #3: Making Myself Difficult to Reach

My idea of a perfect game is called Hide. No seeking allowed. When I was a kid, there was a closet in my Granny's where she stored all of the books she'd collected as a schoolteacher. The closet had a bare lightbulb with a string-pull switch. It was my place. It's still my idea of heaven. If my family couldn't find me, they looked there first. I became a master at not being found. This trait isn't easy for the people I live with.

In business, there is a belief that visibility and access must be constant to be successful. That's true for many businesses. I don't want any mystery about buying baloney or toothpaste. I just want it to be easy to find and affordable. When I was a performing musician, I had to have a level of public awareness of my music and gigs to get people to come out and listen. But even then, there were times when I would just need to disappear. Finding ways to build business relationships outside the traditional marketing and networking challenges has been important.

The adaptation: I choose my clients and find them. I remember reading a story about the world's greatest life coach, Steve Hardison. For years, he didn't even have a website. He would just read newspapers and magazines and identify high-level performers who were going through major life transitions. He would look for professional athletes, corporate executives, politicians - people in positions of power and authority - and he would find a way to contact them and invite them to his office in Arizona. And he would coach them. When I read that story, I knew I had found my way. Relationships are hard.

Don't be offended if I keep inching toward the door. It's nothing personal. Maybe.

These are the top three challenges of a long list. While I'm not the easiest person in the world to relate to, I've found ways to work that work for me. I think I have started to care less about what other people think of me. Their story is just as untrue as the story I present. In the midst of it all, I'm lucky to have a beautiful family and a handful of exceptional friendships. Business is good in spite of me, and I can only tell my clients who have been struggling with their own patterns, habits, and challenges that they will find their own way, and it will be OK.

I trust that if you want to work with me, you'll find a way. While it may not be apparent, I am relatively easy to reach. But if you aren't interested, that's OK, too.