Blurred Lines: When Your Work Life and Personal Life Begin to Merge

Jaclyn Crawford Foresight, Personal Development, Professional Development Leave a Comment

Although “work” is often mixed with recreational and social activities, etiquette expert Margaret Page explains how some things need to always remain separate.

Once, the line between our labor and our leisure was abundantly clear: 9 am to 5 pm was work, and evenings and weekends were for play. Today, in the age of entrepreneurship and new workplace order—where going to the gym happens on the job and chatting at the cooler is encouraged—the line between personal and professional time is blurred.

It’s important to remember that whether you are spending a day on the golf course with a client or speaking to one of your friends in a board meeting, the rules of the games are still the same.

First, good grooming is essential. It’s great that you went for a run with a client during your lunch break or took a spin class with your assistant. Always take the time to have a shower or at the least rinse off. Nothing affects someone’s credibility more than poor grooming. If you worked up a sweat, you need to take time to refresh, no matter how much work you have crammed into your day.

Second, loud language lingers. If you drop a “language bomb,” the effects of it will linger. And like all bombs, language bombs spell danger. The words you use leave a lasting impression on those around you. Although Sandra Bullock’s slip at the 2014 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards may have awarded her a few startled chuckles from the crowd, it also overshadowed her acceptance speech. Do a quick search of “Sandra Bullock + Acceptance Speech” and you’ll find dozens of videos and commentary on the slip, with very few details about the actual monologue.

Drop an “F” bomb, and the following occurs: credibility goes down, and caution goes up.

Third, meet people in their “model of the world.” The Golden Rule, “treat others as you would have them treat you,” is no longer enough in this age of connectivity. Instead, the order of the day is the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they would have you treat them.” Some people prefer to use email to communicate, while others use texting, social media and Skype. And, yes, there are still those who prefer a phone call. Everyone has a PMoC, or preferred mode of communication, so it’s best to find out what that is for each business contact—and use it.

And these three bits comprise just the first step. If you want to build lasting relationships with clients and colleagues, know and appreciate their model of the world. For example: Perhaps you’re working with a client that has specific days of the week blocked off for meetings. Note this so that you are certain to schedule meetings on those specific days. Having this awareness—and meeting people in their model of the world—goes a long way in building a strong business relationship.

 Building On the Foundation

Now, how far do we go? How much of your own personal challenges—or successes—do you share with your clients or colleagues? Even though you’ve become friends with some of your business connections, there needs to be some level of professionalism that is considered when sharing personal information. It would not, for example, be appropriate to share the gruesome details of your spouse’s infidelity with someone with whom you work, no matter how close you are. Keep personal information at a classified level if you’re reaching out for support from coworkers, and refrain from seeking advice from clients or your boss when it comes to your personal life. Instead, seek out someone from Human Resources for support, or find a coach or therapist with whom you can work.

The converse is true here: When you are on the receiving end of the conversation, be available to lend an ear to those who need it. Just be very careful not to get pulled into personal drama. The line can become very blurred if you open the door too wide. Take the time to listen, and encourage this individual to get professional support if needed.

Additionally, leave things better than you found them. What things? Everything: people, plans and projects—whatever you are involved in. Sometimes we don’t realize the implications of our interactions. Too often “average” and “good enough” are the standards for which people reach. While average is great for your blood pressure, it is not inspiring in the workplace, and it is not likely to inspire others around you.

How do you want people to feel when they interact with you? Worse? Exactly the same? Or better? You really do have the power to make or break someone’s day. Sometimes it’s the simplest gesture that makes the biggest impact.

Imagine if you approached life, business and everything else that matters with a vision of leaving it better than you found it. Or each time you did something, you wanted to do it better than the time before. If you set the bar at this height you will always have a job, a career, a place to go and people who want to be connected to you in some way.

While it’s true that the way we conduct business these days has changed, the way we present ourselves is fundamentally the same. If you are well groomed, speak profoundly, connect with others and make a positive difference in the world, you will succeed at work and at play.


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Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker and coach, helping people and organizations improve their professionalism. She is the author of “The Power of Polite,” “Blueprint for Success” and “Cognito Cards — Wisdom for Dining and Social Etiquette.” She is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading western Canadian training organization. To learn more, follow Page on Twitter and Facebook or sign up for her Etiquette blog and Etiquette Edge Newsletter. To contact Page directly, please visit or call 604.880.8002.

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