Our conversations at work have the benefit of mirroring the ways in which we communicate naturally throughout our lives. The good news is that many of the characteristics that have made us effective in personal relationships carry over to these exchanges. Our physical attributes, dress and deportment, and listening skills that attract family and friends transfer easily to interactions with coworkers, supervisors, and clients. Unfortunately, their transferability is not necessarily one-to-one, leading to difficulties that may have been avoided with some self-reflection. Consider the woman who refers to everyone as “honey” or “darling.” While these monikers may be appropriate for her children, her subordinates may find them condescending or too familiar. Furthermore, the male coworker who enjoys ribald jokes with his friends during a poker game would cross the line by sending mass e-mails containing them to his employees.
One way of avoiding these problems is to categorize all relationships according to their primary function. The simplest method is a two-group system based on the extent to which relationships are largely altruistic and defined by intrinsic qualities or largely performance-oriented and defined by output expectations. The former category is epitomized by our most cherished roles such as father, daughter, and best friend. The latter category is made up mostly of employment situations where we are required to meet certain goals and objectives. Of course, even these extremes are not pure forms in that we often must do things to please our loved ones and close acquaintances may arise at work. Regardless, we may be best served by saving informalities in greetings, expressions, and physicality for those persons who occupy our private sphere of influence and use more restraint in language, demeanor, and deportment in public setting.
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