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Questions & Answers

How do you resolve conflict or deal with difficult situations on the job? Every week our expert Dr. Geertje Tutschka will answer your questions.

My boss wants to meet me outside work and invited me to a private party and dinner. This is too intimate for me. What should I do to avoid being rude while not putting myself in an uncomfortable situation?

Thanks to digitalization and Work 4.0/Future Work, the boundaries between work and private life are often blurred today. That work can be life is not new. But constant accessibility, conference calls in the home office, the extinction of the “SIE” [formal “you”] lead to the fact that work and life also involuntarily flow into each other.

This also breaks with traditional role patterns, structures, and hierarchies.

On the one hand, flexible work time, agile teams, and networking invite questioning this consciously and to seize the resulting opportunities and synergies. On the other hand, “grey zones” emerge, which can also be unsettling. Hierarchies and structures also offer security and lay down general rules. Today, there is room to negotiate new and individual rules of the game, which is not easy and perhaps even overwhelming for many.

And naturally humans are relationship beings. Human brains are programmed to search for like-minded people and allies for emotional experiences and confirmation.

Thus it is  no longer unusual to be friends with colleagues and superiors (also) privately. It is no coincidence that the office is a growing relationship and marriage market.

So first of all: the boss’ invitations are completely legitimate. But if it becomes “too intimate” for one of the participants, that is a clear boundary.

The challenge here is to communicate a clear “no” to the boss without leaving burned earth behind.

It is not unusual today to talk openly to the boss. Unfortunately, all too often paradigms, i.e. learned behavior patterns, unconscious bias, and prejudices that have been given to us by our parents, teachers, and mentors from their life experience stand in our way because the social context has, of course, long since changed and/or we are of course individuals who have other options for action.

What is important here is clarity, to give oneself absolute clarity about exactly where one’s own border runs. To “use” the boss as a mentor, as a strategic network contact, as an insider, can be quite legitimate. The question is, at what emotional price, if one of the participants assumes a private friendship here and the other merely a strategically important business contact.

Here, openness helps to conduct an honest conversation as soon as possible. Although this may not prevent disappointed expectations, it saves a lot of heartache, “bitch war”, and thus “war damage”. Nothing is worse than letting things run their course out of shame and to get half-heartedly involved, only to let the cat out of the bag too late!

In doing so, you are avoiding the responsibility you are given to contribute to these individual rules of the game. So face up to the responsibility and leadership skills.

My recommendation:

  • Don’t take it for granted, but for what it is – an (un-)selfish friendship request
  • Define your own boundaries and
  • Communicate this limit determines.

Don’t beat around the bush! It also works with the boss.

 

About

Geertje Tutschka is the founder and CEO of CLP (Consulting for Legal Professionals), which supports lawyers in their careers around the world with here 25 years of expertise as a corporate lawyer and attorney in Germany, Austria, and the US. Her most relevant topic is leadership. The mother of three daughters is the author of numerous specialist books. Since 2016, she has led the German chapter of the International Coach Federation, the world’s largest association of professional coaches.