The Potential of Dual Loyalties
More than once in the last few months I’ve encountered a scenario in which one of my friends/allies has parted ways with other of my allies. Sometimes it’s been copacetic and sometimes not, but it did get me thinking: can you have dual loyalties without being deceptive?
Often in business and life, we’re faced with decisions that require us to take sides. Maybe one person is in the wrong, or maybe one path is simply better for them. Regardless, sometimes the prospect of needing to choose sides precludes any possibility of dual loyalties. But this need not always be the case. In building your minimum viable network, you will come across situations in which two or more people you are loyal to don’t really get along. That’s ok; people are people and that’s human nature.
Depending on the situation, there’s a potential in dual loyalties that can be utilized to the benefit of all parties involved. Many times, networking contains these situations and we don’t really realize them.
But how do you identify the scenarios in which having dual loyalties won’t actually work against you? You don’t want to become known as someone who is two-faced, but rather as someone who is level-headed in the midst of a breakup, even if that breakup is not your own.
This starts with knowing the personalities of the people who are going separate ways. Do they have generally amiable and opportunistic outlooks or are they petty and thin-skinned?
Note: if it’s the latter, you probably don’t want to be around them anyway.
Until There’s a Problem, There’s No Problem
A good rule of thumb to live by is that until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.
I’ve experienced this countless times in the music industry: I’m friends with multiple members in a band, and then for whatever reason, that band breaks up. Some times are worse than others, but the main takeaway I’ve always tried to articulate to each artist thereafter is that I am still their ally, even if they no longer wish to be allies with each other. There are some times when cutting ties completely is necessary, but it’s not an always kind of thing. You will know when it needs to be done.
Otherwise, like I said, until there’s a problem, there’s no problem.
Be Above the Drama
Building a network is like working with bands: people work together, and then they don’t. But by only taking sides when it’s absolutely necessary, you preserve your relationship with both parties while simultaneously cultivating a reputation as a level-headed ally who is not interested in drama. Drama is one of the things which kills relationships faster than anything else.
Understanding the balance of dual loyalties — and how that balance is different from deceptive networking — is an invaluable skill in building a broad and deep network very quickly. Simply do all you can to take yourself out of the drama. As I mentioned, there are times to take sides, but that’s for another post.
Preserve Your Relationships As Long As Possible
Consider this: two (or more) people working at the same company or on the same project. You respect both of all of these people, and endeavor to create positive relationships with each of them. Then, there is a difference of opinion or a diverging of interests, and those people part company. What do you do?
The first question is how to identify and differentiate between the situations where dual loyalty can be a good thing and the scenarios in which it’s not worth the effort.
The quick and much too easy an answer is pick a side. But until you know how and why the separation occurred, you’re only playing with half a deck of cards. In fact, you may never know the reasons. Perhaps the split was amicable and there’s no reason to choose a side and sever ties with the other. People part company for all sorts of reasons and not all of them qualify as “bad” or acrimonious. As such, the best thing to do in this moment is simply to do nothing. In theory, this sounds easy, but it’s a lot harder in practice, as we’re wired to want to “make a move.”
In such scenarios, the right thing to do is to communicate support to each party without taking a side in the matter. You can do this through expressing interest in their new project or direction, offering to give them feedback on a new concept, or merely listening as they vent frustration. Typically, these neutral actions will make one party feel supported in their new direction without alienating the other. The key in all of this is to remember that this is not about the deception of either party. Rather, it’s about not choosing sides in the matter at all.
This is a good rule of life, especially when building your professional network: if there’s no reason to choose sides in something, then don’t. Keep your options open as long as possible.