by Josh Millar
For professionals who regularly interface with their clients, it’s no doubt that strong communication skills are important. Just as important as being able to deliver messages clearly and listen well, though, is being able to maintain healthy boundaries around communication. While not all clients will need clear boundaries, it’s important to have them in place and make them clear. That way, when you do encounter a client who’s used to connecting on the phone at 10pm, for example, you’re prepared to deal with that right away. These boundaries aren’t a reflection of not caring about your work. In fact, they’re just the opposite. Setting clear boundaries helps you maintain the work-life balance necessary to support your success. Here are some tips to establish and enforce these communication boundaries:
You have to know what your boundaries are before you can enforce them. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Maybe you’re a professional who doesn’t mind fielding an incoming call at 8pm or on a weekend morning. Or perhaps you like to keep more traditional hours. And it’s not just calls. What are your strategies around emails, text messages, and social-media messages? What if a client has an urgent matter to discuss? Thinking about how and when you want to be contacted is key.
Set a Precedent
Show your clients what’s acceptable. They’re often trying to follow your lead. This could mean having a specific discussion about your availability and office hours, or it could be as simple as leading by example. If they call you late in the evening and leave a voicemail about a routine matter, return their call the following morning. Don’t apologize for missing the call, just let them know that for non-urgent after-hours calls, you’ll always follow up the following business day. You might also let them know that email could be a better way to reach you, or that if they feel like they need a longer call, scheduling a bit in advance is best. You determine what works for you and uphold it.
Batch Check Emails
When you work with multiple clients, it can feel like there’s a nearly constant stream of incoming emails. These can grab your focus both in and out of the office. Instead of letting every email make you pause, consider batch checking your messages. For some professionals, this could mean checking your email once an hour throughout the workday. For others who may receive more urgent messages regularly, this might be a strategy to employ when they have a complex project that really needs their focus.
Set Out-of-Office Hours
Many clients will appreciate your clarity. If you don’t operate on a 9am-5pm schedule but do have a clear schedule for yourself, let your clients know. Perhaps you’re available from 7am-4pm or 1pm-9pm for phone calls. If it’s outside of these hours and it’s a non-urgent matter, perhaps email is the best way to reach you. If a client has an emergency, is a text message the most appropriate way to reach out? Let them know your schedule and what your accessibility is like outside of that.
The key with all of this is being upfront. You shouldn’t feel guilty for respecting the boundaries you put in place, and when you make them clear to clients ahead of time, you can often avoid that. This doesn’t need to be a big conversation or detailed email. It can simply be a quick note when you begin working together. “I typically work from this time to this time. If you need to reach me outside of that, this is the best way to do so. If it’s not urgent, trust that you’ll hear back from me the next day.” When you’re upfront, clients are much more likely to respect the boundaries you’ve put in place.
Have you considered your communication boundaries with your clients? Not only do these protect your own work-life balance, but they also help to preserve positive client relationships. Do you have any other tips for creating and maintaining these boundaries? Share them with us!