mangosteen: (Default)
Eli's Law of Professional Services: Keep your promises, and set your boundaries.
Even More Important Corollary: Know when you're making promises, and know when you're setting boundaries.

In the past 19 months at the new job, the hardest lesson I've learned is that "people want you to do what they want to think you said you were going to do."

Wait. Rewind. Too many articles. Let me try again.

In the past 19 months at the new job, the hardest lesson I've learned is that "customers consider every statement to be a promise."

It's one thing to say "Yes, it'll be done on Monday." Of course that's a promise. It's quite another to say "Yes, it'll be done on Monday", and have the customer therefore assume "it'll be done by the time they wake up Monday morning, and you'll be working through the weekend to get it done, with twice-daily updates."

Similarly, it's one thing to say "I'll definitely be around until 5:30pm, but after that I can't guarantee availability." and completely another to say "It will be done by Monday at 5pm EDT subject to 24 hours notice to extend the deadline. There will be no expectation of contact or support over the weekend, being defined as Friday 5pm to Monday 9am. Time spent on the phone or communication over email will bump out the deadline on a 2:1 basis etc."

Observation: Slamming between the extremes of "doing whatever it takes, to the point of burnout" and "setting up boundaries to the point of onerousness" is a recipe for an unsatisfying life.

Realization: It all comes down to having a love-hate relationship with conflict. More specifically, having no guidance or subtlety in understanding power. Avoid conflict, and one eliminates their own leverage. Seek conflict, and trash the relationship, thus eliminating future leverage.

Note: This was my professional life for a distressingly long time.

One of the interesting things that has come out of this job is that I've learned how to set my boundaries without being reactionary, aggressive, and otherwise dickish about it. As an added bonus, I've gotten a lot more comfortable with conflict and living in the moment of tension.

Much like in a dance, the moment of tension between the participants represents the connection point in a dynamic system. More often than not, the customer wants the tension. They need to know the boundaries. If I don't provide any counter-force, the customer will start asking for ridiculous things, because they will have made ridiculous promises to their management as a result of my ability to do "whatever it takes".... right up until the point where I can't. Unsurprisingly, this helps no one.

There are so many things in the past couple of years that have re-shaped how I interact with other people (good) and that have made me more "slick" in some ways (not as good), but have made me so much more solid and reliable in others (very good). A bunch of this is attributed to my current job, but the more important part has been sitting down with myself (and others) and figuring out what I actually want, and how to get it.

I'm not there yet, but I'm certainly closer than I used to be.


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Elias K. Mangosteen

September 2017

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