Simon Sinek on How Friendships Differ from Work Relationships and Acquaintances

In Chapter 18 of 20 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek explains the difference between professional relationships, acquaintances, and friendships. What makes friendships hard to define, Sinek notes, is that the bond requires a mutual feeling, connection, and human experience. Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer who applies his curiosity around why people do what they do to teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. He is the author of "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Sinek holds a BA degree in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University.


Erik Michielsen: How do you discern between friendships, professional relationships and acquaintances?

Simon Sinek: Professional relationships are people I do business with, even if I really, really, like them and enjoy spending time with them. I … we all have personal, professional relationships – even ones we really like – that the day we stop doing business, we don’t really talk to them much anymore, you know? We still like them, it’s not that we don’t – it’s nothing bad happened it’s just we did business together. That was it. 

And I’ve had many of those; people who pretend that we’re developing friendships and they talk – and then we don’t do business and you never hear from them. Those are professional relationships. And you have good ones, you have bad ones, you have close ones you have distant ones, right? Then there are the acquaintances, who really are on the periphery, you know? “I’m acquainted with them … I’ve heard of them … I’ve met them, I’ve shaken their hand… “can’t tell you much about them, can’t tell you if you should or shouldn’t do business with them.” “They seem nice …” “I can make an introduction for you…” “I have a phone number, I know their email,” that’s an acquaintance. 

A friendship – and the reason it’s hard to define – is at the end of the day, a friendship is a feeling. You know, a friend is a human – a friendship is a human experience. It’s between two human beings. And you have, you have friendship when you both feel it. It’s not a para-social relationship, which is what celebrities experience, where we feel we know them. But that’s – a para-social relationship is when one party knows more about the other than they know about you. 

It’s when both people have the same feeling that there’s a real friendship. One person can’t have it – it’s like love. You know? You both have to be in it, otherwise one of you is down on your knee on the Jerry Springer show proposing and the other is like, “dude, no.” [Erik laughs] You know? It’s like you both need to feel it in order for it to be love. “But I love you.” But, no. “I don’t love you, how can you love me?” It’s gotta be mutual, it’s a feeling and that’s why it’s hard, because it requires two people at least.