I’ve talked about The Five Love Languages a number of times. That concept talks about how we express and accept love in one of five ways (its usually a mixture). It’s a good read.

But what about communication? I’m not saying (yet) that there are five communication love languages*, but consider how we communicate and a very powerful thing:

The Path of least resistance

Simply put, something will seek out the easiest route from point a to point b. We see it in flowing water, government, customer service, decision making and relationships.

Sometimes it is affected by other forces like morals, ethics, policies, relationship status and comfort levels. It’s this metaphorical seeking the path of least resistance I want to tell you about, and perhaps help you to avoid pitfalls therein.

Your communication

How do you communicate with others—friends, family, customers, clients, vendors, etc.?

Obviously you only communicate on a professional level with the mailman, the cashier, your boss, etc, right? But what if relationships overlap? I’m not talking about a torrid love affair with the UPS man—as much as you might want to see that on The Hallmark channel. I’m talking about how it is ingrained in us—almost like a metaphorical physics—to follow the path of least resistance.

If you establish a friendship with someone on top of a professional relationship, it will NOT be the path of least resistance to have them use the professional one to communicate. It will be the friendship.

Boom. That’s big. That’s huge, and that’s potentially a train wreck for you and them.

The path of least resistance is the friendly, warm, comfortable, familiar, rule-bending and/or ignoring path. The path will be the friendship. On the extreme side, this is the downfall of many people who have relationships in the workplace. The path of least resistance (the relationship) is formed, and then a lot of expectations and communications change.

Not summarily a bad thing

OK let me stop you right here. I am not saying this is a bad thing. If you are a fan of my stuff then you know that the vast majority of what I do is explain how something works and not tell you what to do.

So I’m not telling you what to do, I’m not saying you should never have both in your life (this is essentially impossible, unless you are a monster). I’m just explaining to you how these things work. In my own life I have many overlaps as it’s sort of hard not to form friendships with people you respect and appreciate.

So, be wary of this kind of thing.

Familiarity breeds contempt

That old phase refers to relationships and marriages. Being in a long-standing relationship can create this sort of environment. My own opinion on this is not familiarity, but the trust and comfort zone created. Any long-standing relationship with a large comfort zone is ripe for this to happen. It’s a lot easier to have an outburst, or mistreat someone you know cares about you than it is to run outside and shout at a mailman you have never met. Trust is good. Comfort zones are normal. Using them as a crutch for mistreatment is not. Yet another thing to be wary of. If you don’t honor both you honor neither.

In summary

  • Be aware of overlapping relationships with others of any kind
  • Understand that it takes effort NOT to follow the path of least resistance and that its the default when that path of communication is available
  • Set boundaries early on. This is certainly no easy task because sometimes you find yourself in a friendship long after it is established, and sometimes it seems like such a trivial thing to set these boundaries. It may even seem petty. It can be difficult. The earlier you catch it and establish that you have both, the easier it is for both parties to be aware of it and honor both.

*No I'm not writing a book on this.  As far as you know.