What to Do When Your Clients Blur Personal and Professional Boundaries

When Your Clients Blur Personal and Professional Boundaries

How to restore your comfort level


Weight issues, financial problems, and trouble with a spouse. These are all issues that friends talk about and help each other with, but what do you do when it is your boss or client that starts talking about these things with you?
Here are some tips on what to do when your boss or client crosses a boundary and makes you feel uncomfortable.

1. Listen

Sometimes when you are upset about something, you just need to let it out. That might be all your boss or client needs. Just listening and letting them get it all out might be enough. If you are lucky, you won’t need to do anything else and the two of you can just move on.

2. Stay neutral

What happens when listening is not enough and they ask you a direct question about the issue they’re dealing with? Don’t give advice or try to encourage them, because they might end up wanting to talk more. Additionally, if they accept your advice and it doesn’t work out, they may blame you for their problems.

One time my client was crying and telling me about her financial problems. I just listened and let her get it out. Then she asked me if I thought she was a good businesswoman. I had to think fast and not give the wrong answer. I stayed neutral by saying I was too new to the company to offer my opinion. This statement discouraged her from talking about it further without making her feel bad or giving advice.

3. Tell a more experienced, objective 3rd party

After this situation with my client, I immediately sent an email to my boss telling her what happened. It helped me with the emotional discomfort (remember, sometimes you just need to get those feelings off your chest!) and she also was able to give me advice about what to do next. (One recommendation that came up in our discussion was to write this blog post to help others in the same situation!)

4. Tell your client how you feel

Telling your client that she is making you feel uncomfortable can be tricky, because you don’t want her to feel bad. Just remember: she does not want YOU to feel bad either (or so one would hope. If she doesn’t care, you might want to look for a new client).

Just be clear and concise, but not accusatory. Tell your client that you enjoy working with her, but personal discussions make you feel uncomfortable. Usually that is all you need to say, as most clients will catch on quickly.

If there is an uncomfortableness or tension because of this conversation, a great way to end that is with a little humor.

(Important note here: If your client tells you that she is putting herself or others in danger, don’t follow these steps. Make sure the appropriate people are told as soon as possible.)

Everyone needs someone to talk to, but sometimes they pick the wrong person. A professional relationship is not the right place to open up about personal issues, no matter how close you feel.

The most important thing to do when a client brings up personal issues is to nip it in the bud. Listen to them first, but then tell them that you do not feel comfortable with these types of conversations. Both of you can then move on to a great professional relationship.


DebbieSubmitted by Debbie