Want to Be a Supportive Friend? Turn Off the Entrepreneur

A few months ago, a friend asked me for advice. Before I could open my mouth, she quickly said, “I want Harper my friend, not Harper the coach.”

I knew what she meant. Since becoming a coach, I’ve encountered fellow entrepreneurs who never turn off; those who always wear their professional hat and find it hard to level with you.

I understand why that happens. In many entrepreneurial professions, but especially coaching, you learn skills that help you communicate and problem solve. You rely on your expertise and training to help you navigate and solve problems.

Sometimes, you’re so programmed to offer advice you don’t even ask if the other person wants it.

My coaching training program taught me how to be a good listener, to ask questions, and to engage with people — so it’s not all bad. All of those qualities help me form meaningful relationships. When I ask a question, it doesn’t mean I’m trying to pitch myself to someone or give them unwanted advice; it means I’m utilizing the skills I honed when training as a coach.

But I also don’t want to be a robot who has to wear my coaching hat all the time. And that’s why when my friend asked for Harper, her friend, I listened.

It wasn’t hard to turn off my inner coach (I’ve been a friend for much longer than I’ve been a coach, after all!), but it did make me think about the reasoning behind her request, and why it can be so challenging for entrepreneurs to turn off their professional sides.

As an entrepreneur who wants to be a good friend, you don’t have to completely “forget” your expertise or business skills. That’s not feasible or desirable. But you do have to be willing to hit the entrepreneur “off” button when the time is right. Here’s how:

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1. Find your tricks for “powering down” so you can be fully present for others.

In a world that expects you to be on 24/7, it’s not easy to power down. Many entrepreneurs don’t have much physical separation between their work life and personal life (they work from home, for instance, or regularly check emails at all hours), so it’s even more challenging to turn off.

Training yourself to turn off the entrepreneur often involves little tricks, like disabling notifications on your phone or computer after a certain hour or closing the door to your home office. This can help you create mental separation, which comes in handy when someone wants the “real” you. (Obviously, your entrepreneur side is the “real” you too.)

In the end, it’s about showing people that you’re fully present and you’re with them as a friend. When you’re multi-tasking on emails or otherwise preoccupied, you may inadvertently default to your business persona. Friends appreciate when you truly power down to spend time with them.

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2. Acknowledge that engaging with your professional side requires others to do work.

One of the things I love about coaching is how collaborative it is. As a coach, I work with my client to identify what needs to change and how to make breakthroughs. As a client, you have to show up and do the work. If you don’t do the work, change doesn’t happen. Both sides have to commit to it.

Which is why a friendship is different. When you talk to you as a friend, they don’t enter the conversation ready to do the work. They may want to vent or to complain. They don’t necessarily want to explain themselves and their decisions or think deeply about a topic.

They want to be heard, but they might not be ready for the “work” that comes with engaging with your professional side.

That’s true of every profession, not just coaching. Your professional persona comes with some baggage. No matter how great your advice is, sometimes people just want a friend to talk to.

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3. Remember that you don’t have to solve every problem that crosses your path.

When you’re an entrepreneur and an expert in a field, it can be so, so tempting to give business advice to anyone who seems in need. It might even feel like you’re doing someone a favor. But as most of us know, unsolicited advice doesn’t feel great. It doesn’t usually help, and it can even come off like a criticism even when it’s not intended that way at all.

As entrepreneurs, we are trained to be problem solvers and creative thinkers. We have to solve a hundred little problems on our own every day, so we sometimes instinctually try to solve every problem that crosses our path.

But whether it’s a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, it’s best to start by listening. If someone wants your help or advice, they can ask for it. By focusing on being a good friend, you leave the door open for people to approach you when they do genuinely want your professional input.