It stands to reason that as we grow professionally there is often an opportunity to grow personally. And as we grow in our personal lives, the shape of our professional work can often shift and change.
What happens when the two worlds run into each other?
You become friends with someone you have worked with professionally over the past year. In the beginning the friendship is sharing coffee together, commiserating over common frustrations, offering supportive insight to one another. You refer clients to one another for your respective business services. You feel excited because finally you have a friend who really understands who you are as a professional and you feel you can trust her. Prior to this your two worlds have been fairly separate.
Believing you have a new friend you can really trust, you let your professional persona relax. And so does she. You decide you can trust her and you share with her in confidence a struggle you’ve been having with a common colleague. You allow yourself to be vulnerable. She responds with support and you feel safe. You share more. Then it’s her turn. You listen to her vent and provide supportive suggestions. This goes back and forth a few times.
Then the tide turns.
As you share more and more you begin to see aspects of each other that begin to feel a bit uncomfortable for both of you. You noticed some subtle raw edges in her comments and perhaps she sees the same in yours.
One day, when you were very busy with your clients, she blows up at you angrily accusing you of not being a real friend because you didn’t respond to her texts as quickly as she needed or expected.
She then proceeds to accuse you of being insincere and tw0-faced.
You feel shocked and attacked. At this point you could allow yourself to angrily retaliate. You could explain the reason for not responding… but instead you decide to retreat. You walk away without saying anything in response because you are just shocked and confused.
The thing is, she comes from a family that yelled and screamed at one another as a normal course of working through things. For her this was normal between people who care about each other. For you it felt like nothing short of personal attack and in your world is not the way people who care about each other behave.
After a few days, you decide to reach out to discuss things calmly but it’s too late. In her mind your retreat was an unforgivable insult and her part of this was just the way people who care about each other express themselves honestly.
The greater trouble here is that you and she are still colleagues. You have to find a way to grow from this and preserve your professional status.
You have stepped into an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Here are some practical steps you can take in this scenario:
- Own your part of the conflict. Offer a sincere apology for your piece without any comments that are attacking or defensive. Don’t expect her to respond as you hope. Just do it so you will know you have done all you can do.
- Leave some breathing room. Space and time are the great salve. Come back to it after you’ve both had a chance to sit with it.
- Be clear about the roles you and others play in your life. Too much cross-over between personal and professional is exactly what led you to this awkward situation as it is.
- Be discerning as to whom you share your dirty laundry. Everyone has dirty laundry so there is no need for shameful hiding rather be very selective. And maybe don’t dump out the whole basket all at once.
- Ask yourself how this experience can help you expand in your ability to feel compassion for self and others. Try to see things from her perspective. Understand there is a root-reason for all behavior and look for the soft-spot.
- Find ways to support her professionally even if the personal friendship has been damaged.
- Be kind, polite and respectful no matter what. Even if you never discuss what happened and you never grab coffee together again, aim for opportunities to show her you are still a good person and a reliable professional.
- Avoid talking to others about what happened. The last thing you want as a professional is to be seen as a gossip. If you need to process aloud, find one long-trusted confidante, a therapist, a spiritual mentor or a private coach. Otherwise, zip the lip.
- Look for ways this experience can help you grow as a professional. Perhaps there is a silver lining of divine wisdom here that will lead you to develop a new program, training or write a great blog article.
- Take it to the meditation cushion. This is a golden opportunity for personal growth. Ask yourself what parts of yourself have been illuminated by this experience that you otherwise were overlooking. Practice introspection and personal responsibility minus self criticism and harsh judgment.
There is time and space to keep separate our professional and personal paths in life but there are times when they cross. As sticky as it might get, it is a wonderful opportunity for growth all the way around.