When you are dealing with someone’s personal problem, the line between the professional and personal spaces becomes very thin. Even professionals are prone to overshare every now and then, which can hamper the dynamic of your client-professional relationship.
However, being a nutrition professional, it is your fiduciary duty to stay within the appropriate distance from a client and foster a professional relationship. Be it verbal interaction or physical, you need to clearly define your boundaries in order to serve the best interest of your client, as well as your practice.
When we talk about boundaries, we are talking about a fictitious perimeter around a client that divides their professional to personal space. It defines their comfort zone that you should not cross. Traditionally, the boundaries are divided by two contact points, the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ boundaries.
The inner boundary is what separates the client from the professional. Breaching the inner boundary means that you have intruded into their personal space, either physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Generally, clients tend to feel uncomfortable or unhappy when they cross the boundary.
The outer boundary is the area after which the professional becomes distant from the client and weakens the client-professional relationship. While it is encouraged to keep a distance from the client, distancing yourself too much might make them feel hopeless and insecure.
The Best Place To Be
To foster a healthy professional-client relationship, you need to stay between the inner and outer boundaries of your client’s personal space. Maintaining the perfect professional distance includes understanding and respecting their inner boundaries while being engaged with their problems and empathising with them.
Common Actions That Might Make you Cross the Border
Here are a few common occurrences or situations that might insinuate that you are crossing a line and entering into a person’s inner boundary.
Sharing some personal information can be helpful to develop a rapport with your clients. However, sharing too much personal information can be misleading to the client and insinuate the desire of going beyond a professional relationship.
Accepting or giving gifts
Gifts are very personal gestures that can often be misinterpreted. While it is okay to occasionally give gifts or receive gifts from your clients, more frequent gifts might hamper the dynamic of the client-professional relationship. A nutrition professional should be able to judge when it is the right time to give gifts or when it is the right time to accept gifts.
Developing a social/romantic relationship with your clients
By oversharing or spending more time with your clients, you might unknowingly entice a social or romantic relationship with your clients. Such uncalled relationships can compromise your client-professional dynamic and raise unwanted complications. You should also make sure that you host your meeting or gatherings in socially appropriate settings so that you don’t send any wrong signals.
Rescue fantasies are basically circumstances in which a nutrition professional’s desire to help a client goes too far. They want to go beyond the client-professional relationship and cross boundaries to provide them assistance. Such behavior can foster dependency on the nutrition professional, who might not be equipped to deal with all kinds of situations.
Touching a client
While, in the healthcare industry, you need to physically touch your clients in order to inspect their problems better. However, touching very well falls within the inner boundaries of a person, so they might be uncomfortable with it or consider it inappropriate. To mitigate such situations, always take the permission of your client before touching them and explain the purpose behind it.
No matter how much you might jell along with a client or empathize with their problems, it is your fiduciary duty to maintain a professional relationship with your clients. This way, you will be able to serve the interests of your clients, as well as your practice.
By staying vigilant about these common actions that can be perceived as an intrusion into personal space, you will be able to foster a healthy client-professional dynamic every time.