Resetting the Boundaries Between Professional and Personal Lives

By July 23, 2011Public Relations

I contributed Four Ways to Spark Blogging Inspiration on the Spin Sucks blog recently.  If you read it, then you know that one of my tips for refreshing your blog spirit is to talk to a kid.

I didn’t start out wanting to talk to the kid in question (my daughter, almost 15 — that’s her on the left in a typical pose) on this topic. Rather, I was talking to others about it on the phone and she overheard. I had a situation in which a business contact took a bit of liberty, crossing over into personal territory in what should have been a very business-focused relationship. It was nothing serious, but it gave me pause and was the reason for a few conversations that took place within earshot of my daughter.

She brought it up while we were in the car (and if you’re a parent of a teenager, you may have learned that those car trip conversations are sometimes the most meaningful you’re going to get). “Sounds like you need to reset your business boundaries,” she said with the wisdom of someone far older. She’s right, of course, and I’m making efforts to redefine those parameters and to be very clear about where they lie. Some people just need to be told these things flat out, apparently.

Since the overstepping incident, I’ve been very conscious of the separation between business and personal. It’s not always possible to keep them completely apart. I am good friends with some people with whom I also have a business relationship. I get uncomfortable, however, when a client prospect or new contact assumes a familiarity far too early in the relationship.

Has this ever happened to you? How have you handled it?



  • andilit says:

    Good post, Marijean. I find this happens because, as you noted, I have not established my own boundaries very well. For me, it happens more in teacher-student relationships (more than once I’ve had to just tell my students, “We’re not friends. You’re lovely people, but I’m your teacher, not your pal.”) Online, I think it’s even easier for people to cross these boundaries unwittingly because, perhaps, they think they know more about you than they do.

    Good reminder, today. Thanks.

  • KenMueller says:

    I’m not sure if it has happened to me, but I think, like Andi said, in many ways Social Media contributes to this because how quickly you can become “friends” with someone. And that definition of “friends” is different for each of us.

    And I’m thankful to consider both you and Andi friends, mostly as the result of Social Media, even though you and I also have that professional relationship (though I think it probably started out more personal and moved on to the professional).

    But with Social Media connections, this is going to be an important issue as we move further into the online world.

  • KenMueller says:

    Oh, and Ender’s Game is a favorite of mine! Smart kid!

  • ryancox says:

    Did she charge you a consulting fee? =)

  • ginidietrich says:

    I LOVE that photo of her!!

  • Marijean says:

    It’s actually a couple of years old, but still very “her.”

  • Lisa Gerber says:

    I tend not to get too personal with clients. I do however, have an acquaintance who becomes very emotionally invested in her client relationships. She says it’s something that really differentiates her, and I’m sure it provides a great level of customer service, and makes the client feel important. I think it makes things harder, for example, when it’s time to have tough business discussions. Things start to get personal rather than professional – a danger zone.

    Love your daughter’s advice and the story!!