The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

January 3, 2014

Watercooler: Managing family and client expectations

— Q. I'm a services consultant in a small company. I'm also the eldest daughter in my family, with responsibility for managing the care of parents six hours away. For the next six months or more, I'll be traveling there once or twice a month for up to a week at a time. Fortunately, our CEO gives me lots of leeway. My co-workers are great, too — we all pitch in to help each other.

Although I can work part time while away (even running a project from the chemo infusion center), my absence is noticeable to our clients. One or two colleagues can hold down the fort, and I have a staff vacancy I plan to fill. But in the meantime, what should I say to clients who are used to getting same-day responses from me? And should I apologize for oversharing — for example, "Sorry I didn't get back with you this morning, I was on the phone with my mother's oncologist"? It's true, and they ease up on their immediate expectations or prioritize their requests, often with expressions of support and concern. Some of them are "work friends," meaning we discuss limited personal news — the loss of a pet, an upcoming wedding — over lunch and coffee.

A. Give no unnecessary explanations or apologies. (This is not permission for the perpetually remorseless to dodge giving apologies you know are due. So don't even.) Instead, spend your energy behind the scenes, arranging contingency plans so that you have little to explain or apologize for.

I understand the urge to preempt clients' frustration with an excuse no decent human could fault you for — but sharing too much can backfire. You should assume even sympathetic clients are mainly concerned about getting the quality of service they're paying for. Rather than explaining why your line was busy, try this: "I received your message, and I have several ideas for you."

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