At a recent training course I heard a participant talking about the difficulties she’d had with Kevin – and indeed Roger, Sam and Helen too. The problem was that whenever she had a meeting with one of her very important corporate donors, they would overstep the mark. Now this wasn’t in any sinister way – but these people were telling her their life stories, the problems they had at home and even how their marriages were breaking down. The meetings were turning into a series of counselling sessions – and in fundraising terms, were becoming increasingly unproductive. The boundaries had gone, and the fundraiser was left feeling deflated and out of control.
Setting professional boundaries is important no matter what your role. We all have the right to feel safe and comfortable at work, and to be respected for what we do. But in some jobs – particularly in the charity and non-profit sector where so much of what we do is dependent on strong, genuine, relationships – those boundaries can get a bit blurry. And sometimes the blurring seems to go all one way. So, what happens when you’re a fundraiser and your donor oversteps the mark, and suddenly Kevin is your new BFF – even if you don’t really want to be his?
I spoke to my fundraising colleagues here at =mc and apparently this situation isn’t, unfortunately, unusual – particularly for those at the start of their career. And I know from my own experience that a lot of people in HR, administration and customer service can get caught here too.
In a working relationship where there’s a significant gap in the perceived status of the people involved – whether it’s age, power, authority, or wealth – it’s easy for that relationship to become unbalanced. In such cases the ‘junior partner’ feels they need to be amiable, caring, attentive – and grateful – to the other person, even if that person behaves inappropriately and starts to over-share. The solution is not to ignore the situation in the hopes it will stop. Rather:
The key to resolving these situations is to reflect on what you can do to change the relationship. And not to let it continue. A relationship is two-way. You have the right to control the boundaries as much as the other person – whatever their status.
For more ideas on how to build productive relationships at work, check out our communications programmes such as Developing Personal Presence. Or call us on 020 7978 1516 to talk to one of our experienced consultants about in-house training or personal coaching.
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Clare Segal, Director