A client or a co-worker has asked you out to dinner. What do you do? Especially if you have to work with them or rely on their business.
Situations such as these are a delicate balance between setting your boundaries in a way that is clear but preserving the relationship as you still may have to work with this person.
The most important thing to remember is that you can only control your actions in this scenario, and the best way to move forward is with confidence in your decision.
1. Set a clear boundary
You can be direct and kind at the same time. It is all in how you deliver the message. Politely and directly, acknowledge and express appreciation for the invitation.
“That is so thoughtful of you, and I appreciate your invitation.”
“That is so kind of you; I am flattered.”
“I am touched by the sentiment.”
2. Express that you wish for your relationship to remain professional because you enjoy your working relationship. You may also consider mentioning that you do not mix business and personal relationships as a general rule, as long as it is true.
“I have made a decision to keep my personal and professional lives separate, this way I can maintain a positive working environment, I hope you can understand.”
“I am not open to seeing anyone at the moment, thank you for understanding.”
“I have worked so hard for this position, I am concerned an office romance might hurt my opportunities with the company. Thank you for understanding.”
“I am flatterd, however I just do not think of you this way.”
3. Redirect the conversation back to business.
This situation can be uncomfortable, so it is best to get everyone back onto the familiar conversational ground as quickly as possible.
“We have a great working relationship, it has been great working with you on the Anderson project. Were you able to get the figures ready for Jessica in time?”
“It really has been great working with you, I have learned so much about your role at the company through the last project we were on, will I see you at the holiday party this year?”
3. Keep your conversations professional going forward.
Knowing that this person is interested in you, it is essential to keep your boundary clear. In your future dealings, you will want to focus on maintaining your boundary by avoiding jokes and banter, anything that may be misinterpreted. It is also crucial that you not accept gifts or personal favors from this person to keep the boundary line understood.
Remember, this is a professional environment, and you have the right to set your boundaries. It may not be easy or comfortable, but it is possible to accomplish setting this boundary with elegance, and your working relationship can continue.
4. If you meet resistance
Just remind the other person that this is a personal choice you have made and not a reflection on them or their character.
“I am so sorry if your feelings are hurt, please know that this is a decision I have made for myself and it has nothing to do with you personally or professionally. I just prefer to keep our relationship professional.”
If the other person really struggles or hassles you, or if you ever feel uncomfortable, you are within your right to enlist the help of management or human resources to help you handle the issue.
What do you think? Should you keep your personal and professional life separate? How would you handle this conversation? I would love to hear your stories!