Peaches & Coconuts

Mar 05, 2021


Building relationships with “Coconuts” and “Peaches” can get hairy. Gain insights into earning trust and developing camaraderie on a team.

One of my fondest memories of a trip south of the equator, was drinking coconut water from a young green coconut right off the palm tree. There are a few ways to harvest that delicious water, and from what I can tell, all require sharp tools and staunch determination. As the coconut ages, the water becomes soft coconut meat. This is totally contrary to how we might describe a peach. Though both fruits are well, hairy, peaches are delicate on the outside and have what is often called a stone or pit on the inside.

The coconutty and peachy metaphor has been used to describe how individuals, teams, and even cultures around the world build relationships with others. We all have a sphere of human connections. The outer shell or skin of the fruit represents the most outer circle of relationships, like with fellow citizens and the inner meat or pit the more intimate of relationships, like with family. As connections deepen, say from neighbor to friend or acquaintance to team member, we get closer and closer to the core. Coconuts represent the individual exhibiting a tough exterior, but reveals a more trusting side over time. Peaches represent the friendly individual who is easy to connect with initially, but allows only a select few into the inner circle.

Here are some tips for working with Coconuts and Peaches: 

  • Cracking the Shell: The first impression of coconutty professionals is often described as one of superiority or aloofness. Give Coconuts time to trust and open up. Peachy professionals, on the other hand, intend to be friendly and polite by inviting new acquaintances into conversation through an exchange of personal details. Know that Peaches don’t mean to pry or invade privacy.
  • Getting to the Pit: Coconuts are slow to share good news about family or display photos on their desks. Though, once through the hard shell of the Coconut, expect to develop a deep and long-term friendship. Alternatively, warm and fuzzy Peaches extend invites for coffee and may never set a date. They mean to be polite, not insincere. Expect a friendship with a Peach to be pleasant, and possibly short-lived.

Eventually, colleagues will be included in the inner circle of even the Peach and enjoy lasting relationships– oh, and coffee dates. Professionals display a continuum of behaviors attributed to Coconuts and Peaches, rarely falling into only one category all of the time. Stressful situations, for example, may cause a Coconut to share more than normal and a Peach may become more reserved. 

Leaders leverage insights into the Coconut and the Peach to identify the best way to earn trust and develop camaraderie on a team. Leaders don’t earn trust and develop camaraderie by wielding a machete, on a beach, like our host did in South America while servings us coconut water. (In fact, one expert strongly recommended against taking a machete to the beach, admitting he’d learned that lesson the hard way.) We must have patient determination when building relationships, even if it gets a bit hairy.

Sources: Cultural Mixology: Building Relationships Across Cultures: Are You a Peach or a Coconut?; Harvard Business Review: One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky (by Erin Meyer, who also wrote: The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business).

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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