Last fall I learned a phrase, “Multiplex Relationships” in a Perspectives Course at our church. The idea between simplex and multiplex is that a simplex relationship is transactional. You drive the Uber. I ride. Once the task is complete our relationship ends. A multiplex relationship crosses two or more roles. If you buy a car from a friend it complicates things.
Most people think business is simplex. This worldview is perpetuated by movies like the Godfather, “it’s only business.” This is simply not true in most large transactions. It’s also a terribly mean thing to say even if it is just a B2C transaction. It’s not just business. We are each people.
The “it’s only business” simplex relationship is hardest to navigate with employees. When we lay people off, I do not use this phrase. It’s horrible. People are worthy of respect. One can say, “it’s a business decision, it’s not personal.” Maybe that lightens the hurt a little. But, frankly it is not usually enough to close the gap.
The better thing to say is something along the lines of “look, this sucks. We’ve got to let you go. I like you as a human but this is not working.”
I have done this in very cold ways, too. And it does suck. I’ve also seen others deliver the bad news with this sort of context and retain their multiplex relationships. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I once rehired a favorite employee of mine from the past. She came to work, lasted a short time, and I had to say, “look it. This isn’t working.” Things were different. I had to let her go. I still respect her, as I think she does me, too. It doesn’t have to get that messy.
I could go on with other stories like this. In 2020 we laid someone off who ultimately, months later, referred someone to come work for us, who is a fantastic fit. That sort of experience is awesome. And, it’s awesome not just for our business, but it’s awesome because his referral was a friend of his from church. They had multiplex relationship, and we had one, and it made us trust each other to be real about what we were about and about the potential fit, given the circumstances and needs of the business, and of life.
In multiplex relationships we benefit from congruence and trust. It makes life more rich. It also makes things exponentially more complicated. But, when there is trust, it makes life so much better. Think of your favorite coworkers. The ones where you also hang out socially. It’s great. The culture begins to move and spread.
In small business this is all over the place. It’s almost a requirement to launch a small business. You’ve got to call in favors from friends and family. You sell them on the idea, but you also put your relationships on the line. Sometimes it’s your spouse or a close friend from college making a sacrifice to their time or priorities to enable you to focus. You lean into these relationships because you know they’ll extend you some time to figure things out. Then, in the next phase, you hire people you know, because you know what to expect. The ideas and trust spring forth new and better ideas and a tighter group of people.
This is a fine line.
You want the culture to resonate with people. Passionate people do better work and make it fun. Work is the largest time slot of most people’s lives. But, I don’t think we should limit ourselves to our existing social networks. This can create a horrible echo chamber if it goes on too long. The savvy entrepreneur occasionally leaps out of his or her current network and intentionally pursues people that are VERY different.
I’ve hired or invested in people from various citizenships and social groups. Before I just threw caution to the wind though, I try to form multiplex relationships. I try to be social (I know, right?! It’s hard for people that know me.) But, seriously, it doesn’t have to be going to a club or something. “Social” can just be as simple as asking about how they view the world. Why do they pursue this or that? What are their dreams? What’s the next step? How did they get here? What do they do on the weekend? I say, you sometimes do things for no reason other than because you are with another human, at the same time. Share some moments. Be the fool. Ask about life and kids, etc. … but also, ask for help that creates true bonds. Ask for advice and truly listen. These conversations can become very intimate very quickly and sometimes lead to other things.
I developed friends in my Toastmasters course that were very different than me. I learned so many things from them. And, we didn’t limit our relationship to feedback forms. We stayed in touch after I left the club.
I’m no expert on people, relationships or HR. What I know is that life is better if you have many multiplex relationships. Simplex -only relationships –especially in business–make life harder and more lonely.
Do life together. In a real way. Care.