Professional emotional boundaries.
We’re post-stuff—as far a what’s truly important to us—and now, the most valuable thing we have to offer is ways for people to connect.
With the birth of the connection economy, comes the need for a historically undervalued type of labour: emotional labour.
Whereas the industrial economy mostly cares for tangible outputs, the connection economy asks us to be more human in the way that we do business.
It asks that we do meaningful work and also care about the humans we’re collaborating with.
In the over 10 years that I’ve worked within the wellness and, now, coaching industry, I have always done work that’s involved emotional labour. I’m someone who primarily orients themself by checking how what I’m doing externally relates to what’s happening for me internally.
This has allowed me to do work that has positively impacted the lives of many different people.
It has also made it essential that I get super clear on the boundaries that I hold around the emotional labour that I am able and willing to do professionally. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to sustain my work as a writer, coach, and occasional yoga teacher.
Between the holidays and the project timelines I’m currently working with, I’ve gotten more than the usual amount of messages asking for my help with some crisis or another.
Having spent the past year becoming more able to skilfully process my anger—my old stand-in for actual boundaries—I have been mindful of what I’m checking for when someone does reach out to me for professional help.
Here’s the filter that I’ve been running these messages through:
Is the request being made about the professional agreements that we have in place or are they asking me to mediate their emotional response to an issue?
Have they taken the time to remind us both about the professional agreements that we have in place or are they bypassing them in order to centre their emotional state as the primary concern?
Beyond what they’re asking me for, are they speaking to the ways that this request may need us to update and/or adapt the professional agreements that we have in place so that I receive compensation in line with the scale and scope of those changes?
The coaching and wellness world is notorious for weaponizing the use of emotionally charged requests, favours, and pleas for support.
(On the flip side, coaches—and, more specifically, white coaches—are also skilled at shutting people’s emotions down when it poses a threat or inconvenience to them.)
As someone who used to live in a perpetual state of crisis, I can empathize with the distress that my clients may be feeling. For them, that thing that just happened is a big deal.
At the same time, it’s okay for me to outline how I am able and willing to engage with them in regards to what’s going on.
Effective emotional labour can look like getting hyper-focused on the problem and creating a container where the other person’s stress is not given the oxygen it needs to flourish.
It can look like reminding the other party of how much you value your relationship with them and want it to last. So no you will not meet their panic with more panic.
Alternately, effective emotional labour can look like being honest that while you have been available to help your clients navigate an emotionally charged situation in the past, things have changed and that’s not something you are able to offer at the moment and/or moving forward in the same capacity.
It’s wonderful if you do work that allows you to care about the people whom you do business with.
And it’s also okay to set clear professional boundaries around the emotional labour you’re willing to do for them.
The right clients and collaborators will respect and value you more for this.
It will also allow you to create more sustainable relationships. Which, of course, is the lifeblood of the connection economy.
So, how are you setting clearer boundaries around the emotional labour that you do in your job?