Should we practice professional distance?

Manners are everything, I was taught. But are they?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

There are various professional cultures around the world and different workplaces establish their own policies and conduct rules. 

However, there are also a set of rules that are everywhere: unwritten ones. The ones that you will never know until you are there, trying to integrate with the new surrounding. How to adapt to them while staying true to yourself? 

As a daughter of a lawyer and a teacher, I was taught, as one of my life principles, to always practice professional distance and courtesy with everyone I work with: colleagues, bosses, acquaintances. Having decided on my future career field at the age of 14 and starting to work part-time, I too, observed that being polite, kind and friendly but maintaining formal connection in my professional environment is a safest option, as well as a right thing to do. Although, there were times when I saw co-workers being friends, having an additional relationship, besides professional ones. And I totally respect everyone else’s way of life. I believe people have the right to live according to their own philosophy. Nevertheless, I stand still in my approach. 

I defend professional distance because it means taking neutral side, setting boundaries and avoiding unnecessary involvements. It is possible to be a warm person while at the same time also clarify the lines of accepted and non-accepted behavior. I am of opinion that in order to be efficient as an employee, the only two things needed are: being friendly (not becoming friends) and getting the job done. 

However, distance does not constitute absence of caring and empathy. 

Certainly, if a colleague/client/boss is having a considerably important life event, it is a must to say a few words depending on the occasion. But talking about and sharing very intimate, vulnerable stories of private and family life, commenting on other people’s choices, complaining about a significant other, loudly presenting personal opinions, to me, are activities that can be practiced outside office. Distance also has a positive side of maintaining objectivity which can be essential in case of misunderstandings. 

Again, having an additional personal attachment at work should be manageable because people do it. However, the feasibility of objective and rational attitude towards those who are (not) part of it can be questionable. To a Kazakh saying that is translated as “there is nothing more wonderful in a human’s life than his/her relationships with others”, I would add that with the wonder comes worry, not even mentioning the complexity of human interaction at times. 

As long as we are loyal to logic and eliminate subjective assumptions at the workplace, we shall be fine. Our prime purpose in life is to help others, said Dalai Lama, with which I cannot agree more. But our prime purpose at work is to work. 

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