When clients want a piece of your private life

Making friends with neighbours is only one of the social dilemmas I’ve been pondering. Another is with clients, in my case, the parents of the students I teach. The parents at my school have a tradition of arranging lunches and cocktail parties that staff are invited to. Tonight is the cocktail party for my grade and for the first time, I’ve been able to politely decline the invitation. It came out late and I had already made plans.

Usually, the invitation arrives months in advance, and some organisers refuse to set a date until we have provided one in which we are free – which leaves us with no polite way of declining. They appear so eager to have us there and so disappointed if we can’t attend. Yet when we turn up, few people want to engage in conversation unless it is to grill us about their child’s academic process. Either that or to give us the third degree about our private lives.

Some people seem to love this sort of interaction, but I am one of those who like to compartmentalise life. I have a professional life and a private life. While I really have nothing to be embarrassed about in either, I like to keep them separate and don’t feel comfortable when the lines start to blur.

I’m always surprised at how eager the parents are to have these parties with us. I wonder if it happens in other professions?

I also wish I knew how to make it clear, without being rude, that I do not want to attend.

Sometimes community life is a mini-minefield that has to be navigated so carefully to avoid offense.

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2 thoughts on “When clients want a piece of your private life

  1. It is an interesting dilemma. I don’t necessarily suffer from clients wanting a piece of me socially, but I have colleagues who have different interpretations of the line between work and play.

    I had a beautiful experience this year that, for me highlighted the difference. I had been working very closely with a colleague and gotten on very well with her professionally, forming the best professional relationship I think in my career. But there was always a distance – we worked together. In the last two months she has moved in to a different part of the business where we no longer have anything to do with each other professionally, and as soon as that happened she made overtures of friendship. In many ways the friendship was always there under the surface but she reminded me about the importance of keeping work out of life and vice versa.

    I don’t envy you when parents are thrown into the mix – and I’m glad you’ve managed a distance this time. Fingers crossed for the next!

  2. Do you know, I think I work the same way with my colleagues. I consider some of them good friends, but never socialise with them outside of work. However, if I was to leave my current work place I know I would want to keep in contact and would probably try to go out with them to catch up at different points. But somehow, when we work together, I like that little bit of distance.

    Perhaps its a work-life balance thing. But I really ike my worlds to be separate.

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