While it might seem innocent to tell your office assistant that you are out sick with feminine cramps or gastrointestinal issues, would you feel comfortable broadcasting that to everyone in the office, or even to your clients? Are people leaving your conversations feeling like you’ve told them “TMI”, or “Too much information!”? Beyond your later embarrassment for revealing too much, there are some professional problems that can arise from getting too personal with your clients and staff. A lack of professional distance can allow clients to feel that its ok to negotiate on price and every detail, feel entitled to frequently change your schedule every time something personal comes up, or to take their time on paying bills to their “friend.” With staff members, getting too personal is often confusing. Where is the line? If their boss complains about his/her spouse daily, does that mean that it is ok for the employee to complain daily about their bills, and how they could really use a raise? If you are close “friends” do they respect you enough to do some of the dirty jobs that you may need to ask them to do?
The topic of this article hits close to home for me, as I sometimes struggle myself with determining how much is too much personal information. I’m chatty and I like to build close relationships with the people that I work with. Also, being an entrepreneur, my staff and clients are the only water cooler crowd that I have, so defining a professional line is tricky. The key I’ve found is to build meaningful relationships with your clients and staff that are not overly personal. Make friends, yes… but know when its time to get down to business and be sure they still respect you in the morning.
Here are a few rules of thumb that work well in the workplace, and with clients in the field
The object of this article is not to warn you of creating close relationships – doing that is good business in general and using your natural personality to build friendships with your staff and clients is one of the best ways of building your business. You’ll benefit most if you can strike that balance of showing your personality and building trust, without becoming a confidant. To do this you need to be careful of what personal information you share, and authentic in your conversations about your business values.