I've prided myself on being flexible for as long as I can remember, thinking it was the kindest way to be. I felt like it gave people room to express their preferences and needs, and I could simply respond. Recently, I've noticed how being flexible can actually come across as vague and ambiguous, and at its worst is just non-committal. I've realized those things can actually be really unkind.
I started thinking about it when a friend of mine shared her relief after reading her new lease agreement. Not exactly what I would consider fun reading. She went on to tell me she'd been in a lease for several years that was so vague, she never knew whether she could paint or hang curtains. Let alone how long she would have to wait for a response to a maintenance request, or what the policy was on moving before the lease was up, or perhaps needing an extension on rent payment when a medical expense came due unexpectedly. Her landlord was always very friendly and personable, constantly expressing that he was easy-going and flexible. He wanted open communication lines instead of a hard contract. Seems kind. She would've preferred a commitment, spelled out in decent detail on paper, which is what she's got in her new lease. She's thrilled.
I've noticed this flexibility serving me poorly as I relate to my clients and my friends. With clients, I've always tried to be accommodating. I work from home. I had no children when I started my business, and so I felt like it was part of the job to be as flexible as possible and respond whenever requests arrived, no matter how late, irregular, urgent, or otherwise. With friends, I've usually gone with, "let me know what works for you." Then I end up at a lunch date or host a visit, where I'm drained, distracted, too busy, etc. Or sometimes I have a preference (like "I'd rather do dinner. Let's try that new place!"), and I'm not sharing it for the sake of being flexible, and that's just laziness. I don't want to discuss plan options, share, listen, and collaborate, I just want the other person to do the work. Not exactly kind.
So I'm adopting a focused practice of being direct and clear first, and flexible second. I'm happy to make exceptions to the rule, compromise on a preference, or renegotiate, but the rule has to exist first. I think it's part of being really honest. I think it's part of preferring other people. It's being vulnerable. It's putting my cards on the table and then waiting for the response. It's being willing to share and then listen.
I'm currently tackling my business. It will be a bit of work—writing up agreements, defining as simply and clearly as I can exactly how I work best, what a client can expect from me, and what I expect from them. Along the way, I know that voice might pop up, "You're not being flexible. This is too demanding. Your clients may think you're entitled. This could be inconvenient." To which, I must respond, "I want people to be direct and clear with me if they can, so I'm offering that when I can."
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway. -Kent M. Keith