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Why Can’t We Be Friends? The Lost Art Of Acquaintances.

Best Friends Are Huggable

Straddling generational lines.

I’m going to be thirty-eight years old in a few months. I come from a generation that knows what a pong set-top box is, remembers life before VCRs (let alone DVRs), and knows that a PS/2 is both a video game console by Sony and the third generation of PCs made by IBM. I played tag outside and downloaded songs from Napster. My first computer had a cassette drive and less memory than your coffee maker. I stand on the cusp of two different worlds. I was raised with computers, but still know life before them. I’m neither 100% digital (I finally faced facts and digitized my CD collection), nor 100% analog (I hate hand-writing anything). I am not always cutting edge technology wise, but I’m not clueless either.

I think I stand in a unique position; if I were slightly older, I would be less digitally inclined and if I were slightly younger, I would be more immersed in the digital world. It was only when I got into real estate that I finally broke down and got on Facebook. I had avoided the Myspace craze (although my band did maintain one – all I ever got out of it was a endless stream of “thanks for being my friend” comments and spammer wanting to advertise their wares) and didn’t really see the point.

Friend or acquaintance?

To me, a friend is someone special. They are the type of person I call just to say hello and see how their lives are going. I spend birthdays and holidays with them. I want to tell them good news when I have it and often share bad news with them when it occurrs. They knew me personally and I care about their life – past, present, and future. We are friends and not just acquaintances.

Acquaintances are those people I meet in passing. I might see them regularly, but there isn’t necessarily a connection. There is a step missing that brings them from acquaintance to friend. Sometimes that step materializes, sometimes it doesn’t. An acquaintance is someone I would be more than willing to say hello to, perhaps even share a cup of coffee with, but there is a level of separation between us. I don’t share my secrets with them, I don’t tell them about my personal problems, and I wouldn’t invite them to Thanksgiving dinner.

So who’s what and how do I know?

With the integration of my digital and analog selves, I’ve had to look at the word friend in an entirely new light. I have lots of friends according to places like Facebook and Twitter. Even on AgentGenius I have a lot of friends. Right? Wrong? Ugh, how confusing. Last week, I wrote about dropping your motives and embracing the people around you…making meaningful connections. This helped prompt Ken Montville’s “Your Client Doesn’t Care: A Contrarian View” in which Ken opined that your clients don’t care to be your friends, they just want your services (and excellent ones at that).

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I don’t disagree with Ken…at least not at face value. However, my opinion, much like my generational status, straddles a fine line of definition. Are the clients, strangers, customers, consumers, and denizens of the internet my friends or simply acquaintances with a new title? Does the word friend often get confused with the word acquaintance?

The people in my sphere of influence can be from either group. For some, I know more about them than I do about the average person – there is a slice of “care” in the definition. Sure, I care about all my clients, but this is the kind of care reserved for friends that I have known for years. For others, I care for them as a client, but I wouldn’t necessarily invite them to my wedding. There is a difference. Could they both be called friends? Most likely they would, but there is a definite difference.

In our online world of friends and followers you could easily make a Venn diagram that shows how some online friends belong to your social network of friends (as defined more traditionally) and some to your network of acquaintances.

The Lost Art of Acquaintances.

With so many friends around us, maybe the art of being an acquaintance is being lost. I like for my clients to be my acquaintances – more than a stranger, but not immediately a friend. They may become friends, but that point is irrelevant. The point is to know them better than a stranger. To not walk them through the door of my office, shake hands, sign the paperwork, and thank them as I collect a commission check and head to the lobby to greet my next client. To get to know them a bit. To talk to them on a personal level. They might shop at the same grocery store as me or love my favorite restaurant too, but that is not what they’re seeking (agreed Ken). They want me to be the best real estate agent on the planet. To ignore those common-bond ties though is to deny any level of human relationship, something I think is counter-productive to both work and life in general. My clients might not want to go to my favorite watering hole for a beer, but they might feel more comfortable knowing we share a common interest.

So don’t aim for best friends forever status, but be the acquaintance. Be the one who knows more than the stranger. Be the one who shares a common interest. Take notice and care, yes, but there’s no need to throw yourselves at them screaming and pleading “Be my friend!” I never meant to suggest you have to take your clients home to meet your parents, but you should know your client…at least as an acquaintance.

photo courtesy of StuSeeger

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Written By

Matt is a former PA-based rockstar turned real estate agent with RE/MAX Access in San Antonio, TX. He was asked to join AgentGenius to provide a look at the successes and trials of being a newer agent. His consumer-based outlook on the real estate business has helped him see things from both sides. He is married to a wonderful woman from England who makes him use the word "rubbish."



  1. Matt Stigliano

    March 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    This post actually was harder to write than I had expected. If my “definitions” are slightly unclear – the whole idea of the post is shot. I can only hope everything was well defined for all of you to see my point. If not, feel free to tell me so in the comments and I’ll try my best to explain where I’m coming from.

  2. Missy Caulk

    March 3, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Matt, I think the lines get blurred so much today…with social media. Some of my closest friends are my online friends. My local friends think it is weird, but that’s OK.

    Many of my clients do become friends, some don’t.

    I just think it is easier to say, “my friend in Tx wrote a great post on AG about friendship” rather than, “my aquaintance wrote….

    • Matt Stigliano

      March 5, 2010 at 6:34 am

      Missy – I have always been a bit loose with the word friend I’ve noticed. When I was touring and came home with a funny story about something, I would often say “my friend,” when in reality I was talking about a fan I had met once or twice. Not to say we weren’t friendly, just not quite what I would define as a friend above.

  3. Joe Loomer

    March 4, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Matt, your definitions are clear and I think you get your point across very well. I do, however agree with Missy. I’ve connected with people online in a way that redifines “friend,” and “acquaintance” just doesn’t cover it. To me, missing in the dialogue in all three posts (your two, Ken’s one) is options. What I mean by that is there seems to be lines drawn in the sand about what a friend is, what a client is, what your relationships should be defined by – and by that I mean which pile do you heap them in. The truth is the defenitions of the actual words may have to change drastically, rather than stovepiping online and F2F connections into one category or another.

    If you think your definitions lacked clarity, read MY comments again ;).

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Matt Stigliano

      March 5, 2010 at 6:36 am

      Joe – I think you’re right with the idea that pushing anyone into any category is a little bit too much in some ways. In things of this nature, I would say my definitions are fluid and ever-evolving. I was just looking for a way to explain what I thought was hard about our constant use of the word friend.

  4. Nick Sweeney, DotLoop Social Media

    March 4, 2010 at 11:16 am


    I’m almost a full decade younger than you, but I can certainly relate to the analog vs. digital pull. I draw on the side and still do my drawings in an analog fashion – you just don’t get the same visceral feel when you point and click with Photoshop to color a drawing that you do when you dive in with a brush and paint.

    I think this same visceral feeling relates to online “relationships”, too, especially with sales. I always heard that a customer is someone who uses your services once and a client is someone who keeps coming back. But, are they my “friends”? Your idea of acquaintance is the best answer to that.

    I look at people who have 20,000 “friends” on Facebook the same way I look at people who have 20,000 “favorite” songs on their iPod. No way do you have enough time for either and still function as a human being. They, like the rest of us, probably have ten or so truly great friends and songs that they absolutely love. The rest are just “acquaintances.”

    I love your writing style, by the way 🙂

    • Matt Stigliano

      March 5, 2010 at 6:38 am

      Nick – Thanks for the compliment. That makes you my “friend” right away. Haha. I don’t actually like the word “acquaintances” (it seems so impersonal), but needed to find a way to define it for the article. Now that I’ve defined it, I’ll probably continue to call most people “friends.” It’s a lot easier.

  5. Rich Gaasenbeek

    March 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Matt, thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree with you on the importance of acquaintances, and that not everyone need be a best friend – in fact, can’t be. I don’t think we need to get hung up on the definitions, your argument is eloquently made.

    I work with a company that provides a contact management system designed around the philosophy that building deeper and broader relationships with your clients is a critical part of long term success in real estate sales. You don’t have to become friends with all your clients, but if you can get to know them on a personal level – as valued acquaintances – then you are miles ahead of your competitors who treat their clients as just another “end”.

    The best way to grow a healthy and profitable long-term business as a Realtor is through referrals and repeat business from existing clients and contacts. If any of your readers share this belief, they may want to check out IXACT Contact (, a real estate specific CRM that’s easy to learn and use, and enables the development of deeper and broader relationships.

    • Matt Stigliano

      March 5, 2010 at 6:43 am

      Rich – Hate to be negative, but yet another database program running on a monthly fee to agents? I just don’t get it. I refuse to pay monthly fees for databases (just had a conversation about it on Twitter the other day) – even relational ones with bells and whistles.

      I wish you luck with it and lucky for you, there’s plenty of people that don’t think like me on this subject. I just have never been able to accept it from the earliest days.

      • Rich Gaasenbeek

        March 5, 2010 at 10:18 am

        Matt, I understand your position regarding paying for software on a monthly basis. My wife feels the same way about our monthly hydro, phone, cable and Internet fees!

        In the old days, software was delivered as a product. You paid the full cost up front and hoped you made the right decision.

        With the advent of the high-speed Internet, it became possible to offer “Software as a Service” (or SaaS). You pay a little bit each month and only pay so long at you like the product and it is delivering an attractive return on investment (ROI). If at some point you decide that the product’s not the right one for you, or your business changes, or something better comes along, or you’re just not getting the ROI you want, you simply stop your subscription.

        Pretty neat, eh?

        In addition, because the software is web-based, you receive new product enhancements and features on a continual basis, and your data is hosted in secure facility where your data is backed up nightly. “No fuss, no muss.”

        All in all, a pretty compelling value proposition, which is why the software industry is moving towards the SaaS model very quickly, and consumers are adopting it even more quickly.

        • Ken Montville

          March 6, 2010 at 6:27 am

          Not to get off topic here, but…..

          The ROI of monthly fee anything diminishes over time for the buyer of the product.

          Yes, there may be enhancements that can be delivered quickly but, by and large, the monthly fee model, is designed capitalize on human nature’s predisposition toward inertia. Basically, “set it and forget it”. I can’t quote chapter and verse but studies show that if you can get someone into a membership or monthly fee arrangement you generally have them and their money for a long, long time. Long after recouping the initial costs of the product. Unlike one time pricing, monthly, quarterly or even annual pricing creates an ROI on the product that just grows and grows and grows. The cost of the delivering the product, however, remains infinitesimally small in comparison.

          Regarding the analogy to hydro, phone, cable and internet fees: with the exception of hydro those are, indeed, the same model. Once the initial product is delivered, the ROI is huge and the cost of incremental product enhancements is small. In the case of hydro, it can be argued that you pay for an actual product you use and that you can control the cost of by using less of the product – maybe take a shower every other day or let the dishes pile up a little more. Don’t water the grass as much.

          In any case, while the product itself may be worthwhile, the pricing model is clearly designed to create the absolute highest return on investment plus some for the product’s developer and sales force.

          There is nothing wrong with this. Capitalism is good. Profit is good. It’s just more honest to represent the wonderful features of a particular product as the value proposition than to represent the pricing model as the “value”.

          But…..we can still be friendly acquaintances.

  6. Erica Ramus

    March 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I think your definitions are right on. I have my FB “friends” grouped into Family, Close Friends, Business, Acquaintances, Distant???, and Local Realtors, AR/Out of Area Realtors… etc.

    A friend is someone I can call at midnight when the car breaks down and I need help.

    An acquaintance is someone I just don’t know that well, and calling them for help in the middle of the night would be strange.

    • Matt Stigliano

      March 5, 2010 at 6:44 am

      Erica – I think that’s a great example of what I was trying to convey. I’d call my friends for help at midnight. It’s a very short list of people.

  7. Ken Montville

    March 4, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Matt, I agree with a lot, maybe everything, in this post. It is important to “bond” with our clients in order to gain the small amount of trust it takes for them to share what it is they would really want us to do when selling their house or helping them buy one. The biggest challenge I have ever had was overcoming this withholding that most people do when they don’t know you well. Let’s admit it. The client will never got to know you well or you them.

    My position is not that the client wants you to be in their life forever as Rich might want us to be. I really think that the client just wants us to “do the job” and if we get along and have a good time in the process, that’s icing on the cake. If you do a good job and you keep in touch over the years they’ll be repeat customers and, perhaps, refer people to you as well.

    As an aside, I think I must be doing something drastically wrong re:social media. I haven’t developed any good friends that I don’t already know IRL and certainly haven’t derived any business from it. And I *do not* shove listings out into social media 24/7.

    Missy and Joe must have the secret formula.

  8. Matt Stigliano

    March 5, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Ken – Interestingly enough, I agree with your post as well. I saw what your point was in it. That’s why I wrote this one – so that other people who may have mistaken your post or my post. I wanted some more clarity on it. I think we were both barking up the same tree – just for different reasons.

    As for social media – I’ve developed some good friends. And yes, I use that word for a reason. Some of them I’ve been able to interact with in person, but there are still a few that I know I could call in the middle of the night (using Erica’s example), but I have yet to meet in real life. Perhaps I should test my theory out – who wants a call at midnight?

  9. Jay Ferguson

    March 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Missy is right, the lines are blurred these days. I would add that the value of a friend is someone who connects to you as well. A mutual connection.

  10. Lisa Heindel

    March 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    I cannot recall a single one of my clients becoming actual friends of mine. Friendship…real friendship…is hard to come by and I don’t think you have time to develop that type of relationship during the home buying/selling process. Nor is that what I’m looking for and I hope that my clients aren’t either.

    Does that mean that I won’t be their facebook friend, like their status or comment on the pics of their kids? Nope. But if we boil true friendship down to Erica’s “can I call you at midnight” rule, I would hazard a guess that there are very few people on anyone’s list that would pass that litmus test.

  11. Bob Wilson

    March 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I have clients that have become friends, but it would have happened if we had met at a kids soccer game. I have other clients that are not friends. We never clicked at that level, but still got along well and maintain a biz relationship. I have other clients I have fired. No friendship there.

    My goal has never been to be their next BFF, but to make sure I handle their transaction as if they were my mother, whom I will forever owe an unpayable debt of gratitude. What happens after that happens.

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