Professional Intimacy™ – The Neglected Skill

Professional Intimacy™ – The Neglected Skill

Professional Intimacy™ – The Neglected Skill



Do you experience Professional Intimacy™ in your job? Professional Intimacy™ is getting to know someone beyond the immediate transactional nature of your work together. When you have it, you can anticipate how your boss might think, understand what is important to your peer, and ask your direct report frank questions because you have a foundation of trust.  

Some of you may think, “Of course, I have that!” However, these days it is not as common as you might think. Many organizations are so far flung that it can be fairly common for people that we interact with on a daily basis to be in another city, state, country or continent. The virtual world has disconnected us from the valuable tool of Professional Intimacy™. Even when we work in the same location, our schedules can be so different and so full of meetings that we forget the basic human need to connect as we struggle to complete our 101 most urgent tasks.

What does Professional Intimacy™ give us? At the simplest level, it provides us with a shorthand way to connect and work with others. We know how to communicate with them, whether to be short and sweet or take the time to ask them about their kids. We can tell whether it is a good time to talk or if they are having a bad day. We can anticipate their next move so that we can be in sync.

As managers, we can learn what motivates our staff and how they like to work and what they like to do. When we have Professional Intimacy™ with our supervisors, we can learn informally the thought process of our supervisors and the senior leadership, the direction the organization is going in and what is truly important for us to succeed.

In my work with clients, I see increasing difficulty in establishing Professional Intimacy™. In Captain Michael Abrashoff’s book, It’s Your Ship, he shares his grassroots approach to running one of the most successful battle ships in the US Navy. One of his ways of establishing Professional Intimacy™ was to meet with new sailors starting their tour on the USS Benfold. During that conversation, Captain Abrashoff learned their story and what they wanted out of their experience. From those conversations he could guide and lead these sailors to achieve what they wanted and to be successful and at the same time create one of the best working environments in the Navy.

How do you work on establishing Professional Intimacy™? As one of my clients put it, you change the “conversation from being purely transactional to relationship based”. This takes effort and is more difficult in the virtual, high-paced environment that many of us work in.

Establishing Professional Intimacy™ is like dating:

  1. Have a conversation. Find out what is important to the other person. What are their hopes, dreams and desires which in business terms translates to the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization, division or team. It doesn’t hurt to know what is important to them outside of work.
  2. Ask questions. Show interest. Find out the story, emotions and thought process behind someone’s actions.
  3. Talk about yourself. As a leader, explain what you are thinking, why you’re thinking that way and how it fits into the bigger picture. Share your understanding of the landscape.
  4. Establish trust. Develop a foundation that allows for frank, honest discussion and feedback. Show people they can count on you and that you rely on them.
  5. Call and see each other regularly one-on-one.
    • As a supervisor, take the time to meet regularly with your direct reports (no less than once a month) to invest in their professional development.  
    • As a colleague, having a solid support system of peer relationships built on Professional Intimacy™ will strengthen your influence and facilitate high performance.

A former colleague told me about one of his experiences as a high potential employee in a large oil company many years ago. In those days there was an executive dining room and to be invited as a young employee was quite a privilege. During lunch you sat with executives in the company and listened while they talked “shop” about the strategy of the company and the challenges and opportunities. You might also get the chance to share your own fresh perspective from down in the trenches. Organizations need to find new ways to make this happen today.

Take a look at the level of your Professional Intimacy™ in your work relationships and work on mastering this neglected skill.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.