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Steps to Friendship; One of the Gifts of Women in Business

A friend and I have gone through a lot of transitions lately. Well, she’s really much more than a friend—she’s a trusted mentor, mentee, a sister from another mother. We support each other, but there has been some tension, and I struggle with how to manage that, as do most women of worth whom I know. We are growing with the support of each other, but it has sent us on different roads philosophically. How to stay authentic, and how to do so in a way that is neither defensive nor destructive, even when it might hurt. To do so promptly, thoughtfully, and with a positive end goal in mind. We nurturers struggle—or, at least, this one does—with habits ingrained by society and also our learned behavior in collaborating at work. Make no waves. Habits that have led me to either walk away in anger and resentment, leaving a wake of hurt behind me, or to keep my thoughts to myself and continue relationships that aren’t based on the real me. I think I’m getting better about this, as I figure out my self and motivation. Happy are the days when I feel I make progress there.

Through this most recent episode with my friend I realize that, in business, women (in my experience) become friends with those with whom we work, alongside whom we build things. It’s a wonderful benefit of working, especially when you are lucky enough to work with exceptional women who share your goals, and your commitment to excellence and results. Friendship in the workplace. It’s complicated. I read years ago in something or other about four phases of friendship, the four phases a relationship passes through as time goes by. Here they are, for your consideration. The first phase of friendship involves discovering common interests and sharing experiences around those interests. Work. Tennis. Women’s issues. Marketing. Film. Backgammon. These are some of the shared experiences I have bonded over with future friends. In the second phase, you move beyond those basic interests and get to know the other person on a deeper level. You have dinner, and you talk about things: beliefs, philosophies, personal experiences. You call them for advice. You share and remember and celebrate things beyond the original basis for your connection. Inevitably, there comes a time when things take a turn—something happens, and there is friction, anger, hurt. This is the third phase, and many friendships die here. Let’s be real. Most friendships die here. But if you work through this challenge, then you get to a point where you can believe you will be friends forever. You know that you can trust the other person, the strength of your friendship, and the way you will handle conflict with each other. They see you, flaws and all, and still support and enjoy you. You trust then that you can work through anything, share more than would have felt safe to share previously, and celebrate that your trust is true and solid. In whatever it was that I first read about these phases, the claim was made that most of our friendships remain in the first two categories, they never have the friction to generate further growth. But it’s the ones that survive the third that change our lives and make us feel we’ve truly connected. These are the truly close friendships in our lives; we only make it there with very few people. I have a handful of such friends. I feel so lucky to have them. I work hard at staying connected, supporting them, remembering what is important to them, what is happening in their lives, telling them when I have been hurt or feel neglected, and loving their successes as much as if they were my own. I am grateful for them in so many ways. So many ways. And my friend with whom I am going through a transition? The one who generated this piece? She and I passed that third phase just a few days ago. Women; we are simply the best.

--Christine Merser


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