In Japan, there is often a small body of water between the road and a home. A bridge connects the two. When someone crosses the bridge from the road to their home, they are moving from their public life into their private life. The bridge is symbolic, of course. It suggests an appropriate mindset shift. We don’t commonly have any such bridges in the US. We are much quicker to blur the lines between our public and private lives. Often, we don’t even recognize the distinction. This can lead to inappropriate expectations of the relationships we’re in.
The Symptoms are Everywhere
Politicians kissing babies.
Facebook making sure you know when it’s everyone’s birthday. Even people we don’t know in real life or haven’t seen in 30 years.
Colleagues and managers who compare the office to a family.
We’ve developed hundreds of ways to blur these lines. It has become so ingrained in us that it can be difficult to even recognize the problem. What we do recognize is how shitty it can feel when those lines are consistently blurred.
What’s the Difference?
The number one distinguishing feature between public and private relationships is what you’re seeking. In our private relationships, we seek to be loved. Even when it comes to our kids, who we are trying to raise right, we still want to be loved by them. No healthy parent thrives on imposing consequences for poor choices. We thrive on the affection our kids give. Not the tantrums.
In our public relationships, we should be seeking to be respected. Being liked can be and often is a byproduct of being respected. But being liked without being respected is dangerous in the workplace.
I have a client who has struggled to hold team members accountable because of this deeply rooted desire to be liked. He’s afraid of offending someone, even temporarily. The consequence? His team members don’t respect his leadership.
This isn’t Crystal Clear.
This concept, like nearly every other leadership concept, is not black or white. Love and respect are deeply intertwined in general. When you apply them to relationships, they become even more so.
The problem arises when the balance is tipped in one direction inappropriately. My client is learning to balance his desire to be liked with his need to be respected and taken seriously. He takes an approach that feels more natural to his style. The team members are starting to respond positively.
I’ve been telling my kids since they were small that my job is to be their parent and not their friend. But that doesn’t mean I don’t do nice things for them specifically to reinforce our love for each other.
Hard-wiring plays a role here, as does our collection of life experiences. If you are constantly disappointed with your co-workers for not liking you more, you may be looking for the wrong things from them. Take a step back. Evaluate how to earn their respect. It will shift your outlook.
Your balance between being loved and being respected may look a little different than mine. That’s okay. Find the balance which helps you be as effective as possible at work, and filled up with love from those in your private life.