Sisters Clash Working Together

Dear Vicki: My sister started a business a few years ago 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. As a stay at home mom with older children and time on my hands, I started helping out by answering phones and filing. At first it was fun working together, but recently 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). It’s really put pressure on our relationship. We’re about to re-open after the pandemic and I’m wondering if I should just quit. But her business has really grown and she needs the help. Plus, she’s my sister; I can’t just walk away. What should I do? Signed: Not Good Enough 

celtic logo

Dear Not Good Enough: Ah, sisters! They’re family, but usually different. And you two are really different in some very important ways! I suspect that you are a primary Earth personality and your sister Shelley is a primary Metal personality. Earth people love helping others, especially family. And it was clearly a Metal personality who wrote the old proverb: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” (Actually, the proverb was written by Benjamin Franklin who I completely believe was a Metal personality!)

The good news is that you and your sister relate on the Nurturing Cycle of the Five Elements model, which is the big circle in the model below. This means, by definition, your connection should feel supporting. The challenge is that it is Earth that feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle, so Shelley will feel more supported by your relationship than you will. Also, because Shelley’s a Metal personality, she may well expect your support. Metal people often feel like it’s the most natural thing in the world for Earth people to cater to their every whim. And in some ways, it is. Earth personalities not only love helping and taking care of people, they love being needed. However, in the current situation, your sister’s Metal tendencies and how they contrast with your Earth tendencies seem to be creating some friction, so let’s see what can be done to bring harmony back to the family.

The Five Elements Model

Metal people love establishing protocol, following rules, and doing things the “right” way (which often means 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. However, Earth people usually don’t have the structure necessary to maintain the strict level of continuous precision that matters to the Metal personality, so it might be unreasonable for Shelley to expect that of you.

Also, Metal people like streamlined and exact communication, which means Shelley will naturally prefer that your messages be brief and to the point. However, Earth people love sharing and want to be sure they include anything and everything that might matter, which usually doesn’t lend itself to briefness. Finally, Metal people value appearances while Earth people value comfort, and both will usually make clothing choices based on these values.

Does all this mean it’s going to be impossible for you to continue helping your sister? Of course not. But both of you need to remember that there’s strength in differences, which means it will be important to value what each of you brings to the office.

In truth, Shelley probably needs someone exactly like you answering the phone because the people who need help de-cluttering are probably much more like you than like her. Earth people tend to keep almost everything anyone important has gifted them because the gift becomes symbolic of the gifter. And since Earth people will never voluntarily remove someone important from their life, they have trouble letting go of anything that came from someone important. Over the years, that can really add up.

The reality is that Shelley probably has a lot more Earth personality clients than Metal personality clients. And while Earth people are the most likely to need help decluttering, Metal’s perfunctory communication style and ease at letting go of things themselves can sometimes seem harsh. The callers will relate much easier to you and you will relate to the callers. In fact, Shelley may not have noticed this, but it’s quite possible that her business has actually grown partially because you are the first person people speak with when they call.

That said, Shelley has a right to expect that her desire for appearances and process will be honored in her office. Before you start back, 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 as the stores reopen? Or maybe you can even select some items online over a cup of tea. It’s unreasonable to expect you to dress like a Metal person, 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 remember to honor the gifts each of you bring to the office. Earth and Metal energy together can create something more beautiful and functional than either would ever create alone. Blessings to you and Shelley, and good luck on your re-opening!

sisters disagree

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