Boundaries: Do you know yours?

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Last year we watched a house across the street be built, and now this year another house is being built next to that one. As I watch the houses go up I notice that once the framing is up, in comes the team to erect scaffolding…

While a roof, walls and even insulation are obvious boundaries that houses hold. Simplistically, they protect the inhabitants from the outside elements.

Scaffolding, however, reminds me of the boundaries we think of for ourselves. The scaffolding that’s gone up is for the safety of those putting up the next elements of the house. It provides a platform for work to happen; It’s sturdy; can be kept in place for as long as required; and can be adjusted for the situation.


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Boundaries, especially professional ones, are all about a clear understanding of what is part of a role and what isn’t. I also believe that agreement and acceptance are included. A boundary might not be liked by another, but acceptance is key, and as such agree not to breech that boundary.

Boundaries can be categorized:

1. Physical

This is probably the most obvious, visible and the one that got a lot of attention in the workplace in the context of harassment, unwanted attention, etc.: personal space and anything related to the body.

2. Emotional

This relates to feelings, such as undervalued, not listened to, upset, guilt. These feelings a re valid, and the way they can be a boundary issue is when they are dismissed or gaslighted in the workplace.

3. Financial

Stealing, skimming, reckless spending, inequitable allocation are all ways financial boundaries could be crossed or violated.

[Crossed boundaries: I see these are a break of a boundary, most likely inadvertently or done without malice. A violated boundary is one in which the breech was done with the intent to hurt.]
4. Intellectual

Disagreeing, disrespecting and condescending someone’s views, ideas and suggestions can raise the issue of needing a boundary. Gaslighting can happen here too.

5. Personal

Being friends on Facebook with your boss, or friends with some colleagues yet not others, may affect personal boundaries. Prying into one’s personal life is an obvious example, while over-sharing personal details is another that is common.

5 Tips for Setting Professional Boundaries

1. Define

Think about your boundaries before trying to set and hold them. Without first knowing your boundaries, you may inadvertently wax and wane and send inconsistent messages about what you will and won’t tolerate.

2. Your Priorities

Reflect on your boundaries in the context of your work. Your boundaries should help you control and protect your priorities, the most important work you do.

3. Communicate

If people don’t know you have a boundary, they’ll ask or expect. Make it easy for them to respect your boundaries and share them. Ask others what their boundaries are, so you make it a mutually beneficial and respectful exchange.

4. If… then…

Like the scaffolding around the house construction, it can be moved and adjusted to suit the needs of the workers and the house, boundaries may need to be broken for the greater good. Don’t simply let that boundary go, make an agreement so that others know it’s not a permeant shift. If…then… agreement will help you serve the greater good and reinstate the boundary without feeling like you’ve lost something.

 5. Role Model

Take the time to learn other’s boundaries. This will give you insight into your own boundaries, and it will help you not cross other’s boundaries. If you do cross a boundary, acknowledge and apologize so that you are demonstrating how you want to be treated when it happens to you.

Your boundaries, known and held, contribute to a strong level of self-leadership. Boundaries are evidence of self-respect, and as such you’re successfully leading yourself. Brene Brown’s quote, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”, acknowledges how boundaries can be a bit awkward but if handled well they can be relationship savers and productivity boosters for all involved.

What do you do to ensure your professional boundaries are not crossed?

Written by: Sally Foley-Lewis

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