By Ross Wilson
In the last of this three-column series about working with family and close friends, let’s delve a little into boundaries.
Many of you (but sadly, not all) would agree that it’s arguably in poor taste to blatantly prospect at family gatherings. However, during such events, if a relative seeks your advice, and you’re open to helping them, prior to accepting the agency, clarify your policy of no discounts. If they grumble, save everyone a lot of time and frustration by politely refusing their business right then and there. The personal relationship must come first. By treating your business relationships with family professionally, you’ll improve the odds of keeping the personal element intact.
Early in a relationship with stranger clients, you normally delineate mutually unambiguous boundaries as determined by personal feelings and social and business mores. Since boundaries with family can naturally be blurred, it’s best to establish similar clear limitations, professional boundaries and expectations before entering into a principle/agent contract with loved ones.
Don’t wait until a perceived transgression occurs and someone is upset, either expressed or suppressed. Obviously, all industry rules, codes of ethics, standards of practice and provincial statutes still apply, but a healthy working relationship is more than that. A personal connection is great, but to avoid damaging a familial relationship, it’s really important for both sides – prior to putting pen to paper – to recognize what would constitute inappropriate behaviour, unreasonable expectations and unwelcome trespass.
In your business life, disappointments will be forgiven or forgotten fairly quickly. Aggrieved clients will vote with their feet and never do business with you again. They’re completely gone from your life.
However, family will always be family. You can’t divorce a sibling. When boundaries or expectations are not clearly understood or reciprocally respected, the result could ultimately be disastrous. For example, prior to accepting a family member as a client, your professional availability should be established. Advise them that unless it’s an emergency – by your definition – they may contact you with business questions or concerns only during regular business hours. Or you could insist that when you have a report ready, you’ll contact them.
Treat all your clients, be they family, friend or stranger, in the same professional manner and expect to be treated the same in return. Yes, it may be a little softer around the edges with family, but it’s a good idea to stay within your preconceived and usually unwritten boundaries. It’s not always possible, though, because regardless of the relationship, some people will co-operate and others won’t. But at the end of the day, you want your family to be happy.
I believe that people are fundamentally honest and trustworthy, hence I trust people until they give me a reason to do otherwise. And fortunately, I’m usually trusted in return. Life is definitely easier when you’re so blessed. More often than not, you get what you give and reap what you sow. I earned the faith of my clients – kith, kin and otherwise – by providing honest, dependable service and by trusting them. Of course, I was betrayed occasionally; it’s hurtful, but it happens. However, I never betrayed the trust of a client, for without integrity, you have nothing.
In most situations, your relatives and close acquaintances will hire you. And they’ll do so for one chief reason – they trust you to take extra special care of them. They know in their heart that you’ll not allow them to be cheated, that they can sign documents without worry. Key decisions during the home transition process are made much less stressful with the thoughtful loving guidance of trusting counsel. Again, what is that trust worth? A lot. And it’s worth your full fee.
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” George Bernard Shaw