Managing personal relationships at work

June 13, 2008

I’ll be appearing on the Ryan Tubridy show on RTE Radio 1 next Monday morning talking to Ryan about relationships at work – personal and social ones; how we manage them and don’t; the ‘rules’ and boundaries etc. I’ll post some of my thoughts here and a link to the podcast next week. In the meantime if anyone has any comments or thoughts on the subject I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Update: The podcast is here (date 16th June) and I appear at around 44 mins in (you’ll need Real Player to listen). Ryan and I talked about negotiating boundaries (formally and informally) and the importance of establishing how much information we’re willing to reveal about ourselves and more importantly (some times) how much we’re willing to hear. I told a story about one work situation where I was unwittingly involved in a boss’s affair by having to tell his wife when she called that he was ‘at lunch’ – very often it’s this type of situation that contributes to difficult personal relationships at work.
We also talked about the importance of personal relationships particularly when work is stressful or dangerous and as a way of decompressing from work place anxiety. If my life is in your hands the chances are we are going to be very close and intimate at work. The reality is though that many of those kinds of intense relationships don’t transition long term. But work relationships are about work most of the time and the work context will take precedence over personal – chances are if we’re friends we may be competing for the same job one of these days and our friendship may take a battering if we’re both after the same position.
Work is a social situation and it wouldn’t work without personal relationships but I’m becoming increasingly interested in the splitting that goes on where we have highly formalised ‘rules’ for good behaviour in the work place contrasted with an ‘anything goes’ attitude outside of work particularly on social networking sites – as though it’s possible to keep both separate. Ultimately I wouldn’t want to do anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing in front of friends and family. But it’s interesting to me that we can even imagine that we can be ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ and separate and contained in those ways.
We just touched on these and other issues – it would be great to continue that conversation in some way – the feedback and emails I’ve received since the show have been fascinating .. it seems to be an issue many are interested in.

2 People reacted on this

  1. Good luck with the interview. Some thoughts? there are only two realtionships, the one we have with oursleves and the one with have with other people. Both can and do vary enourmously in our experience of them. Work is ‘just’ another context in which these two relationships operate, but a very important one because most of us spend more of our waking time in that context/environment than any other. Relationships at work do have a particular potential to create issues of understanding the difference between secrecy (where the withholding of information form others causes some harm to those others) and privacy (where the holding of information from others causes no harm, though it may shock, surprise or hurt). In truth, as I write this, I can find fewer and fewer legitimate reasons to differentiate between the social and professional, other than the differing objectives of each. The proferssional context does create more potential for conflicts of interest and abuse of mutiple roles i.e. when friends are also conducting business together, where the friendship ends and the professional realtionship starts, and when that changes and how, is a whole piece of work in itslef, an area that generates most interest when it involves influence, power and money – to which the Irish body politic, public and press are no strangers. Best wishes

  2. Jeremy I really like that distinction you draw between secrecy and privacy – you’ve mentioned it to me before and I really need to think about it more clearly because it’s nuanced and fascinating.
    The interview was quick (about 10 minutes) but we touched on some of the issues you raise.

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