Relationships are the backbone of not only humankind, but they are also an imperative element of our roles as MSLs. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines relationship as “the state of being related or connected”, and research shows our brains respond positively to people when we feel a personal connection with them. Relationships play a vital role in both our personal and professional lives; however, differences exist between these two types of relationships, and these differences are not often discussed. Understanding these differences is crucial to knowing what to expect from each type of relationship and avoiding the perils of blurring the two.
The underlying principles for personal and professional relationships are the same: communication, trust, respect, and the ability to resolve conflict. Beyond these similarities, the two types of relationships diverge.
Personal relationships are relationships with family and friends and are formed from the earliest days of life and are maintained throughout life. These relationships are based on love, trust, and compassion. A genuine desire exists for the well-being of the other person and this desire is the guiding force that pervades relationships.
A key difference with the professional relationship is the origin of the relationship. The professional relationship arises through work; hence, professional relationships may change as a career grows and opportunities arise. It is important to note that a working relationship is not a friendship, although it may transcend into a personal relationship. Professional relationships involve people working together for a common good: colleagues working towards a common goal for the benefit of the company or an MSL and physicians collaborating for the benefit of the patients and improved outcomes. Professional relationships are also forged to strategically advance career goals.
Since professional relationships are interpersonal connections built in a place of business, they tend to be more formal than relationships that exist outside of work. Work culture and professional expectations guide how people should behave towards one another. Boundaries exist with the intent of keeping the professional relationship distinct from a personal relationship.
As the origin and intent vary between the two relationships, the risk of each type also varies. In a personal relationship, pride is at risk. In a professional relationship, livelihood is at risk, and this demands that more caution is exercised in this type of relationship. As in a personal relationship, a professional relationship may also include a genuine like for and support of the other person. However, the true intentions of another person in a professional relationship may not always be known. Jealousy, competitiveness, dishonesty, and sabotage in the personal realm pale in comparison to how these can play out in the professional domain. For this reason, it is imperative to remain professional in working relationships.
Some professional relationships do develop into personal relationships depending on the persons involved. Making a friend is a bonus; it should not be an expectation of the professional relationship and not a requirement. Having a relationship that is both personal and professional is okay if both parties involved maintain a healthy gap between the two, find a way to be both professional and personal and remain effective in the job.
Connecting with people and forging relationships is a part of human nature. Relationships ground us and provide opportunities to learn, grow, and have a sense of belonging. They allow for commonalities to be found which help build the key element of trust. It can be easy to blur the lines between personal and professional relationships. Within limits, developing fun relationships at work is acceptable, but it is important to remember that these relationships developed through work are not meant to become too intimate. Oversharing in the working relationship is a common error and can lead to the perils previously mentioned. Professional interactions should be enjoyed, and appreciation shown to those who mentor, provide support, and offer advice. Understanding the differences in the two types of relationships allows us to remain strategic and negotiate our professional relationships in ways conducive to ongoing success.
Angela Valadez, PharmD, MBA
Angela Valadezis Senior Manager, Medical Affairs for Regeneron. Angela has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas and a Master of Business Administration from Baker University. With a passion for using evidence-based medicine to guide treatment decisions, Angela has worked with physicians throughout her pharmaceutical career to manage patient care and impact health outcomes. She was named an MSL Rookie of the Year Finalist in 2020 and was named MSL of the Year for Alimera Sciences in 2020.