The news these days is full of geopolitical disputes over territorial boundaries: where they are, where they should be, and who is infringing on them. It’s really no different for us personally. At work and home, we create boundaries that we don’t want others to cross, and set limits beyond which we ourselves do not care to go. But in our own self-interest, or the interest of a larger good, we’re sometimes challenged to step across somebody else’s, or our own, boundaries.
Here are some illustrations of the boundaries that people create, the cost of dealing with them, and possible ways to handle these situations diplomatically.
I’m being inundated with phone calls from several of my clients. I could handle it if they limited themselves to telephoning me at work, but they’ve also begun to call me at home. These intrusions are beginning to seriously annoy my wife. I don’t want to lose my clients’ business, but I’m getting a little fed up. How should I address this? I think you need to give yourself permission to set limits on your accessibility to clients, so you can really be there for your wife and family when you’re home.
The first step is to plot out an ideal day. For example, when would you prefer to meet with clients and prospects? When would you take phone calls? When would you work on client plans? When would you make calls or write e-mails or letters? In an ideal evening at home, would you decline to answer client phone calls after a certain hour, or would you refuse to take any business calls at all? After you’ve thought through your preferences, create a written policy defining when you will be accessible by phone. Communicate this to your clients, singly or en masse.
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If you feel uncomfortable about taking this step, ask yourself why it makes you ill at ease. What’s the worst that could happen? Write down your concerns and fears, along with ideas on how you would handle these eventualities. Being prepared in this way should alleviate much of your discomfort.
I know just where you’re coming from. My own workaholic tendencies are abetted by the boundary-less spirit of an extrovert who’s always afraid of missing exciting opportunities in work or play. But after deciding not to take calls after a certain hour, I found myself able to enjoy my family more fully while resting and replenishing my energy after a busy workday.
Try to create respectful boundaries around your own time without stirring up annoyance, anger, or defensiveness, so that when you work with clients you are fully present, rested, and ready to respond to their needs.
A colleague in my medium-sized planning firm has a drug abuse problem. I’ve caught him smoking pot on his lunch hour, and there are indications that he snorts cocaine, too. I’m concerned about the quality of his work for our clients, as well as the possibility that our firm’s reputation will suffer if he’s caught. Even though we once were friends, I feel awkward about confronting him on a matter that isn’t really my business. What should I do? If you care about giving your onetime friend a chance to clean up his act in private, you may need to step outside your comfort zone.
Consider meeting with him someplace where you are unlikely to be seen or overheard by co-workers. Tell him directly that you are worried about him, and about the inevitability that drug-taking will compromise his work performance and cost him his job. If he’s responsive to your concern, you can suggest a drug rehabilitation program, a therapist who specializes in substance abuse, Narcotics Anonymous, or better yet, all of the above.
But since his problem puts the firm’s clients and its good name at risk, you can’t just leave it at that. Make sure he understands that you’re prepared to let other people know about his drug habit, unless he starts working to overcome it promptly and aggressively.
This may be a very difficult thing for you to say and do. But I believe that failing to act could cost your firm and, indirectly, you, a hard-won reputation for integrity and reliability. More poignantly, it could deny your colleague an opportunity to recover his natural balance and sense of well-being.
For months now, I’ve been longing to switch to a four-day workweek so I can help my wife care for our young son, who has cerebral palsy. However, fear of losing business has kept me from announcing this to my clients. I know my concern may be foolish, but I can’t seem to overcome it. Help! For your family’s sake, try to muster the courage to take this difficult step.
You may find that all you need is a dignified letter expressing your new policy, with a brief reference to the reason (“to spend more time with my family, especially my son who has special needs”). Assure your clients that you will continue to be fully committed to the same high-quality service as before.
In reviewing your client list, you may find that there are some individuals you would like to inform first in person or with a phone call. If so, set yourself a deadline for completing these calls and conferences, so they don’t become an excuse for further procrastination.