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What to Do When These 4 Work Relationships Go Too Far

By InHerSight – Feb 23, 2020 at 10:00AM

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After-hours texting, office flings, soured client relationships -- oh my, my, my.

This article originally appeared on InHerSight.com, a website where women rate the female friendliness of their employers and get matched to companies that fit their needs.

Work is hard enough without adding in all the complicated interpersonal struggles you're bound to face day-to-day. Though it can be challenging to solve problems with your boss, friends, colleagues, or clients in a manner that you feel confident in, don't shy away. Managing conflict professionally and respectfully is totally doable; we're here to help. 

A woman with her head in her hands and elbows on an office desk

Image source: Getty Images.

My boss is texting me after hours...help!

Technology -- and the instant communication it enables -- can be both a blessing and a curse. If you're trying to relax when you get home after a grueling day at the office, or are having a wine and movie night with your gal pals on a Friday night and your boss starts texting you about assignments after-hours, it can be super annoying. You might feel obliged to attend to the task in question immediately, which isn't fair at all. Where can you draw the line? When does it become inappropriate, inconsiderate, and unacceptable for you to be expected to be in work-mode outside the workplace? With the exception of emergencies, the answer is all the time. Here are some ways to address the situation. 

1. Communicate from the start

As soon as this becomes an issue, attend to it. Try not to let the texts persist for weeks or months before you address their inappropriateness with your boss. Even if you aren't the confrontational type, understand that as long as you are respectful in your delivery, it is always warranted to voice distress to your boss. Their job isn't just to oversee your work but also to make sure you're comfortable in your work environment. 

Tell your boss something like this during a 1:1: 

Although I'm diligent at work and am always working to put my all in, I need my nights and weekends to spend time with my family and friends without worrying about things at the office. I would be more than happy to help you out the next work day, but please don't text me outside work.

Short and sweet is the way to go. There's nothing unkind about this, and your boss should try to understand where you're coming from.

2. Keep your word

If you've followed Step 1, and you are still receiving texts from your boss, you should respond with something along the lines of Okay -- I'll make a note of it and tackle the problem first thing when I'm in the office again. Try not to ignore a message (as long as it is related to work), but make sure to get your point across. Put your foot down, or they will continue to send you texts. There's a time and place for everything, and home is not the place for work!

3. Seek help when you need it

In the event that the needs you conveyed in Steps 1 and 2 are still not being respected, it's time to bring in a third party. Talking through the situation with someone from HR is ideal; it probably isn't the first time they've been asked about the classic texting-after-hours situation, and they can give you professional advice or meditation to help you move forward.

My workplace fling just ended...now what? 

According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com, 39% of working Americans have been in romantic relationships with their co-workers; only 30% of these relationships ended in marriage. Clearly, you're not alone! Tons of women have to deal with the (initial) awkwardness that comes with frequently seeing an ex at work. Darting when you see a former fling in the hallway, ignoring them when they talk in a meeting, or avoiding collaboration in group settings are not viable solutions. Instead, they fuel workplace gossip (never something you want to be the subject of), distract you from your A-game, and work to the ultimate disadvantage of the company. 

Rather than jeopardizing your efficiency and productivity at work, train your brain to see this person as just another co-worker, and value them for their professional strengths and the assets they bring to the workplace. This takes time, of course, but eventually you will come to see that in spite of your personal differences, your professional lives can thrive in the presence of the other. Even if the relationship backfired or blew up in some way, having a conversation with your ex-partner about your boundaries at work can be helpful to avoid tension and conflict. 

Here are some phrases to consider:

I just want you to know that no matter what has happened between us, I'm willing to move forward in a professional capacity and would like to be friendly. We've had our disagreements, but I don't want us to ignore each other.

We might have to collaborate on projects in the future. Even though we've ended our personal relationship, I want us to treat each other with the same respect and kindness as we would other co-workers.

You're not pretending your relationship didn't happen, but acknowledging that at the workplace, your personal qualms aren't to be prioritized. 

My client and I no longer get along...what do I do?

Sometimes you can really connect with a client; maybe you're even friends. But if they are overly detail oriented, nit-picky, dismissive of your hard work, or don't see things eye-to-eye with you, the relationship can quickly plummet. Ultimately, it's up to you to keep things professional and amicable; a client's satisfaction is super important. First off, try not to take their criticism personally, but as a reflection of professional differences. Instead of being defensive (it's definitely our first instinct), think of creative strategies to utilize their input in a way that still suits your vision for the project. If you're doing both of these things and still find a client to be rude or unaccommodating, confront them about the situation with the following questions: 

Can you provide me with specifics about what you expect from this project?

I know we have some differences, but how could we work together to create something that suits your expectations?

Other tips for rectifying a souring client relationship are to do the following:

1. Always provide specifics

Keep them up to date on when you will be delivering on certain parts of a project and be ready to negotiate them with your client.

2. Make yourself available (within reason, of course) to work with your client

Don't avoid contact with them just because the relationship isn't what you'd like to be. This could be an opportunity to build a relationship and for some professional growth.

3. Know that you're not always right

Genuinely apologizing can make a difference in your relationships with people. 

If you've addressed the questions directly with your client, and have followed the previous two tips, the relationship should be more than salvaged. If it's not, you could talk to your project manager. Sometimes people just aren't professionally compatible; maybe you could be placed in contact with a different client or shuffled around to work on a new project. 

My best friend at work is bringing personal drama into the workplace...what now?

When you work with your friends, it can be so hard to keep from chatting about things that do not relate in the slightest to your latest project or the team meeting in two hours. Instead, you probably want to talk about the new guy you've been seeing or how much your co-worker annoyed you last week. Maybe you have the restraint to keep the drama-talk out of the workplace, but your work BFF doesn't. How do you tell her to hush without coming across as rude? First of all, tone is important. Be kind and keep it lighthearted if it makes you feel better. Here are some good places to start: 

Hey, I totally want to hear about this but let's do it on lunch break or when we leave.

Let's try to stay on task while we're here and then we can vent over drinks later.

I'm not totally comfortable gossiping or getting off topic at work. Can we discuss this later?

Now if your BFF is being jealous or clingy in the workplace, that's a different story. You might want to have the option to branch out and socialize with your other colleagues at work, but if your friend won't give you the space to do so, it can be super frustrating. This is a touchy and personal subject, so try to have this conversation outside the workplace. Something like this might work:

I love that I get to work with one of my closest friends, but I feel like we are restricting each other by spending so much time together. Maybe we should try to get lunch with a new person tomorrow.

Even if your friend doesn't take this well, it would be pretty awkward to get HR or your boss to help out. In fact, it would probably make things worse if she knew you confided in someone else in the office. Rather, you should refer to another close friend who knows both you and your friend to see if there are better ways to communicate your feelings without hurting hers or damaging her relationship. Your concern is valid, but maybe there's a more effective method of going about fixing it. A fresh opinion is always helpful.

The Motley Fool has an ownership interest in InHerSight. Motley Fool CFO Ollen Douglass serves on the board of directors for InHerSight. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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