Similar, but Different

by Mario Christiner

In the spring of 2014 I left Zurich and moved to magical Barcelona. I arrived without a job and just enough savings to last me a few months. A year later I finally started working as a freelance English teacher. This taught me how to live off my natural skills, yet my monthly income fluctuated between 100 to 500€. I needed support!

That August someone referred me to Patricia Zeegers. We arranged to meet after a few pleasant emails. As I approached her I was frozen mid stride and suddenly had the urge to turn around. She had a striking resemblance to my mother who left me when I was 18 and we’ve had a strained relationship ever since. Luckily, I took a chance with Patricia and she turned out to be a kind-hearted and savvy business mentor. Our mentorship taught me a few valuable lessons:

  • Value what you can offer others
  • Follow your top priority every morning
  • To succeed you have to ask yourself some tough questions

These lessons propelled my self discovery and inspired me to guide students on their own self-discovery journey. My new business Thrive is a learning program that empowers young change makers build a sustainable future guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals ( When looking for advisors, Patricia was the first person I asked. Our ongoing adventure together got me thinking what makes one person’s support more effective than from someone else?

The short answer is you have to find someone who is similar, yet different. In this brief guide I share some factors to consider when you’re looking for the most compatible mentor, advisor, co-founder, or team member. For starters you have to understand who you are. Ask yourself:

  • What am I looking to achieve?
  • What can I do on my own?
  • What do I need support with?

It can be tough to self-reflect and understand what type of support you truly need. You may wish to write down your current struggles or share it with a few close friends. Once that’s clear, it’s time to find the right support. It’s a good idea to meet/talk to a few people. Afterwards I suggest a trial phase for a few weeks. During this process you should consider how compatible your personalities are, communication styles, level of commitment, & complementary skills.


Many of us tend to have both an inner and outer personality. It’s key to get to know someone’s core personality, which may take a few encounters to uncover. Our personalities are shaped by our genetics, upbringing, culture, and most importantly our life experiences. This will impact our daily routines, what we like to eat, our hobbies, and much more. We can easily be attracted to similarities or discouraged by our differences. However, the most important is you both share similar values. 

I’ve quickly realized that it’s near impossible for me to get true support from people who are self-centered and are driven by wealth. Both Patricia and I are driven to give back to others and improve society. While Patricia supports female business owners living around the Mediterranean area, I focus on young change makers around the world. 

Communication Styles

Just like our personalities the way we speak comes in all flavors. Having lived in four countries and travelled to over 40 countries, I’ve learned that how we communicate differs vastly between cultures, genders, our education, and personal experiences. 

All these differences shape our body language, vocabulary, expressions and tone. It’s important to realize that every word or sentence we say can be interpreted differently and lead to miscommunication. This is explained by the four-sided model as seen below. This video explains it further:

Let’s take an example that can have many meanings: “Can’t talk now, I’m busy”. See how differently this simple phrase can be interpreted!

For me I struggle to work with people who usually interpret messages on the relationship or appeal side. When getting support, be open to adapt yet realize the communication style you prefer. Patricia and I prefer to be open and direct, which is mostly on the factual side. So we understand each other 90-95% of the time.

Level of Commitment

Remember how I suggested a trial period? Well you may have experienced someone saying they would help out and when you need them, suddenly they disappear. For this reason it’s important to clearly define your expectations and what they get in return. If the support is one-sided this can often strain and potentially end the relationship. For a healthy and long-term commitment it’s best to have a give and take relationship. 

Most people who offer their support have good intentions. Only some people are realistic and honest about their availability. Some indicators of low commitment are inconsistent response times or they miss meetings or deadlines.  Keep your expectations realistic and keep tasks small at the start. Patricia always insists we schedule meetings that repeat bi-weekly or monthly.  We are also constantly finding ways to support each other’s businesses.

Complimentary Skills

As I just mentioned commitment should be a win-win deal. It’s also important that you have different skills or expertise to offer one another. A person’s skill level can be tricky to evaluate unless you know them. This is yet another reason for a trial period. You can also look at their previous work or ask them about their experience. If they are honest they will share a few stories of how they’ve helped others.

Social media makes it easy for people to oversell themselves as experts. I tend to avoid those who talk highly of themselves or say they can do everything. Patricia talks modestly about herself even though she’s had experiences like working for Nike. Above all her business advice has proven itself time and time again.

Remember Similar, but Different

It’s important to realize people are different in how we speak, think, behave, and what drives us. Before you agree to someone’s support you should make sure you share values, have similar communication styles, agree on the commitment, and have different skills/experiences. Follow this and you’ll be sure to thrive together!


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