Aristotle had insight into the business world long before it took any modern form. And that’s especially true when you consider that so much of business is now – as it was in his day – about relationships.

 

One of Aristotle’s most interesting pieces of work concerns types of friends. To his mind, there are three different kinds of friends – the utility friend, the pleasure friend and the friend of good.

 

The utility friend is your friend because you are useful to each other. That doesn’t mean you don’t like or care about each other. What it does mean is that the primary basis for the friendship is mutual interest. This person might be your friend because you work together, or you are in the same running club, or you volunteer together.

 

If you have the kind of job where you need to find others with whom to work, the utility friend is gold. You get along. You have good work chemistry. Your skills complement each other’s. This is a good friend to have. But you can’t forget that the basis for the relationship is that mutual interest. Take that away and the friendship probably doesn’t survive.

 

The pleasure friend is a straightforward concept. This is a fun person you can have a great time with. You’re thinking of going out to a club, or to some sort of festival. You don’t want to go by yourself, so who do you call? Jim! Why? Because he’s a riot. You’ll never fail to have a blast when you’re in Jim’s company.

 

There is nothing wrong with a pleasure friend. There is nothing wrong with having fun with other people. But you do have to recognize that, when you’re not engaged in some sort of pleasure-rich activity, you might not have that much to talk to Jim about.

 

Then there’s the friend of good. This is the friend who will be there through thick or thin. The one who knows your virtues and flaws. The one who has been on hand for every struggle and every triumph and will be sure to stick around no matter what. Friends like these are more valuable than anything, and when you make one you need to be sure to hang onto him or her.

 

The application for business is this: We’re most likely, in the business environment, to make the first two kinds of friends. Obviously, you will make a lot of utility friends at work, because work is all about getting things done and finding people who can help you. Often, the utility friend you made at work becomes a pleasure friend as well. You work so well together that you figure you might as well make lunch outings a regular thing or hit the nightlife together. Now your life is even more tied up with that of utility/pleasure friend.

 

The problem, though, is that when you get this tied up with a friend, you tend to want that friend to become a friend of good. You’re together all the time. You feel like you know each other really well. You get along great. Why not expect your utility/pleasure friend to become the type of friend who will be there for you no matter what?

 

And here is where such friendships can not only break down, but cause issues in the workplace.

 

The reason is simple, but the implications are complex. The friendship that’s based on utility can survive as long as the utility factors are in place. The friendship that’s based on pleasure can survive as long as you two are having a blast.

 

But in both cases the friendship is conditional. It depends on the aforementioned factors remaining viable and serving as the underpinnings of the relationships. Take those factors away, and there’s still a chance the friendship could thrive – sometimes people do grow genuinely close – but there’s also a good chance it falls apart from lack of the common bonds that held it together.

 

This can cause tension if one friend mistakes the other friend for something he or she is not.

 

When a utility friend or a pleasure friend starts expecting what you’d get from a friend of good – and it doesn’t happen – what was once a pleasant relationship can become a tense one. That can create all kinds of issues in business.

 

The most important lesson here is to know what kinds of friends you have, and not to make the mistake of misjudging these relationships. Utility friends are great. Pleasure friends are great. But especially in the work setting, keep them straight and attune your expectations accordingly.

 

One more thing: By all means, seek all the friends of good you can get. They’re tremendous. And yes, I’ve made some in business. You might too. Just make sure you know the difference between a real friend of good and someone you just wish would become one.

 

This is a good plan for keeping your friendships solid and your business focused.

 

Written By: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors & West Michigan Scaling Up Coach