Blurring the Lines


People talk about treating their co-workers differently than they treat their spouses or kids, or even friends. And yet, blurring the lines between our public and private lives happens all the time. If you’re experiencing frustration, confusion, disappointment, and a lack of accountability, you may be blurring the lines between your public and private lives.

When I was a community organizer, we talked a lot about the concept of separating our public lives from our private lives. It was challenging because many of us had moved into a new area to work, so our networks of family and friends were somewhere else. It was easy to make friends with fellow organizers.

However, when it came time to professional push each other, it was harder to do with “friends”. Clients tell us the same thing is true with their co-workers.

Here are 5 ways you can strengthen this healthy distinction.

  1. Public relationships thrive on mutual self-interest. This is simply shared motivations, common goals, and a mutual understanding of what is important to the other person. Spend time strengthening the professional relationships you have in order to deepen your understanding of how to work most effectively with your colleagues.
  2. Public relationships focus on mutual respect, not on being liked. This doesn’t mean you won’t be liked, but it does mean that can’t be your goal. When we focus on being liked, we stop saying and doing things that might be important for the other person to hear, but might mean they won’t “like” us anymore.
  3. Hold your colleagues, co-workers, boss, and everyone else in your workplace accountable. We stop doing this when the lines are being blurred. The consequences for a lack of accountability in any workplace are serious and create a dangerous culture.
  4. Seek out diversity of all kinds. That guy from the other team who always seems to want to go in a different direction? Sit down with him and understand why. Use each other to expand your vision. Seek to learn from those who are different from you. Diversity should be respected and celebrated. Without it, we lack innovation.
  5. Give yourself permission to challenge. There are some people who won’t be able to resist challenging, but others for whom this is uncomfortable. Asking hard questions to help someone sort out their thinking can be scary. But it can also be the reason someone gets unstuck. Professional challenging is an investment in someone else’s success.

Bottom Line?

Reflect on how you show up in your professional life. Really examine your relationships with colleagues, your boss, and your team. What are the foundations of these relationships made of? If they aren’t built on accountability, respect, and mutual self-interest, you might want to let them crumble and begin again.



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