If you’re anything like me, relationships carry great weight in the way you do business. The more personally attached I am to someone or the more I quite simply like ‘em, the more lenient I’ll get and it becomes harder to maintain professional boundaries.
Rules start to relax because, “Geez, Jim is just so funny and nice to me. He definitely deserves a discount for his sense of humour and opening the door on my behalf” or “Golly, Jane was so open to all the feedback I was providing, perhaps I’ll just provide her with a little more of my time next time.”
Here we’re making a conscious decision to relax our parameters. And that’s fine, that’s our prerogative.
The problem with said prerogative is that it sends off a BIG FAT SIGNAL that you’re willing to give an inch. Which in turn encourages people to take a full mile.
Pretty soon, Jim and Jane are being funny and open all of the time and they start thinking you’re friends because, after all, you’re relaxing those boundaries especially for them, right?
It’s a natural progression in relationships and reciprocation 1-0-1: the more I give, the more you’ll give. (It’s also marketing 1-0-1 right?)
Pretty soon however, we’ll find we’ve given so much, the lines between what we were initially offering and where we’re extending ourselves become all too blurry and suddenly, we find ourselves out of pocket and time.
But gee, Jim and Jane are still great people!
So, just how do we maintain friendliness whilst maintaining our professional resolve and therefore our sanity?
1. Acknowledge your clients or suppliers with words instead of actions
Jim and Jane are excellent clients to have so tell them so. Tell Jim he’s funny and nice. Tell Jane that she’s really open to feedback and that’s wonderful and refreshing to work with. Your words can be equally as powerful as your time or your discounts and you’re still reciprocating – just with a different currency. Who doesn’t want to hear nice words?
2. Acknowledge your boundaries and re-employ them
Ok, so it’s too late and you’ve managed to get yourself into a bit of a pickle, (ie feeling you’re doing too much for a particular few). The first step is to recognise just how your boundaries have broken and what you need to do to get them back in place. It means you’re likely going to have to say ‘no’ where you have usually been saying ‘yes’ and you’re going to have to be strong about it. People will react to this. A perfect example is, “But that’s not how we’ve worked together before”, to which I’ve said, “You’re right. That’s not how we’ve worked together before and I’ve perhaps given too much of myself at times where I wouldn’t usually.” Being really honest can allow people to see through to your vulnerabilities and help understand the situation.
3. Treat this relationship as you would any other
When we first enter into relationships, we go on a journey of discovery around the dynamic. If the relationship rules are not working, we’d either adjust the rules or terminate the relationship. If number 2 above just didn’t cut it, it’s time for a deeper conversation. Perhaps this isn’t the right relationship for you? You wouldn’t allow this to continue in an intimate relationship, would you? So why would you in a working relationship? If it doesn’t work out terminate, move on and enjoy the lesson for the next relationship.
What tips do you have to help you maintain professional boundaries between you and your clients?