Dear Vicki: My sister started a business last year helping people de-clutter their homes. Shelley’s brilliant at it, too; nothing is out of place in her house and not a single drawer is jammed full of stuff. Her business has grown and she’s gotten so busy, she’s hired several people to help her with the customers. I’m a stay at home mom with time on my hands now that my children are older, so have been helping out by answering phones and filing. At first it was fun working together, now it seems that nothing I do is good enough for Shelley. She doesn’t like the notes I leave about phone calls (too rambling), the way I file (not consistent), or even the clothes I wear to her office (not professional). Sometimes I want to quit, but it’s my sister and I know she needs the help. What can I do? Signed, Not Good Enough
Dear: Not Good Enough: Ah, sisters! They’re family, but usually very different. You don’t mention your elemental affinities, but I suspect that you’re an Earth and your sister Shelley is a Metal. The good news is that you two relate on the Nurturing Cycle (if you’re unclear what that means, check out “The Five Elements” tab on this blog), so by definition, your connection should feel supporting. The challenge is that it’s Earth who feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle, so Shelley will feel more supported than you will. And because she’s a Metal, she will expect your support. Metals often feel it’s the most natural thing in the world for Earths to cater to them and in some ways, it is. Earths love helping out and taking care of people. However, in the current situation, your sister’s Metal tendencies and how they contrast with your Earth tendencies are creating friction, so that’s where we need to focus.
Metals love establishing protocol, following rules, and doing things the “right” way (which can often mean their way). Filing is a good example of this. Shelley will likely have a very precise filing system set up and adhering to that system will matter to her. For you, Earths just don’t have the structure to maintain the level of continuous precision that matters to Metals, so Shelley shouldn’t expect that of you. Metals also like streamlined and exact communication, so Shelley will naturally prefer your messages to be brief. Earths appreciate sharing and want to be sure they share anything and everything that seems to matter, which usually doesn’t lend itself to briefness. Finally, Metals value appearances while Earths value comfort. And both make their clothing choices based on these values.
Does this mean it’s going to be impossible for you to help your sister? Of course not. But both of you need to remember that there’s strength in differences; you need to value what each of you brings. In fact, Shelley probably needs someone like you answering the phone because the people who want help de-cluttering are probably going to be more like you than like her. I would bet she has a lot more Earth clients than Metal clients. To an Earth, Metal’s brevity can seem harsh, but you will relate to the callers. Shelley may not have noticed, but her business might actually have grown partially because you are the first person people speak with when they call.
However, Shelley has a right to expect that her need for appearances and process will be honored in her office. Perhaps you can speak with her about her filing system. Is it more detailed than necessary? It’s certainly not going to go over well to tell a professional organizer how to organize her files, so if she’s wedded to the system she’s created, maybe she can bring someone else in part-time to do the filing. And regarding your clothes, this is your sister we’re talking about. Why don’t the two of you plan some time to do a bit of shopping? It’s unreasonable to expect you to dress like a Metal, but Shelley can certainly offer suggestions regarding comfortable attire she’d find suitable for her office, especially if most of the client contact is done via phone and email.
Your family relationship should be more important than your work relationship, but there’s really no reason you can’t have both if you each remember to honor the gifts the other brings to the office. Earth and Metal together can create something more beautiful and functional than either would alone. Good luck!