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Wednesday, June 27, 2020

Keeping your sanity and your cool

In today’s manic workplaces, personal boundaries require constant attention.

Boundaries are essential to effective organizational functioning. They’re just as important to individual functioning too, especially in the workplace. It’s dreadfully easy to allow organizational needs to swamp your personal space, reducing you to an automaton whose only direction is the one currently set by organizational policies and goals. Here’s how to stop that happening.
Everyone knows the old saying that good fences make good neighbors. Nowhere is it more true than in the workplace, especially when it points to the need to establish and maintain personal boundaries in the face of continual pressures to lose your identity in the group.

Good fences make good neighbors because each side knows where the limits lie. This side is mine, where I can choose freely; that side is yours, where I can enter only with your permission. You don’t trespass on my side and I don’t try to eat into yours.

Where boundaries are poorly marked or uncertain, there will be a constant tendency to disputes, land grabs, turf wars, and the consequent resentments—even violence. No one is quite clear about their limits. Those who are—or feel themselves to be—stronger are tempted to encroach. Bullies can grab bits of someone else’s territory and hope to conceal their aggression behind a smokescreen of uncertainty. Such boundaries as remain are under continual threat.

Keeping your space clear

That’s not an uncommon situation in many organizations. The powerful (bosses, top executives, ambitious colleagues) stand on one side of each individual’s boundaries. On the other side are that person’s private needs, personal life, family obligations, career hopes, and health requirements. If the boundaries are unclear, weakly laid down, or easily breached, the strong will be tempted to encroach, nibbling away until little is left that is not under their direct control.

Without good personal fences, your time, your energy, your achievements, and your dreams are more or less up for grabs. Those bullies, domineering bosses, uncaring executives, and even so-called friends out for a free ride can just walk in and take more or less whatever they want: your time, your energy, your self-esteem, your confidence. The result is wage slavery.

Here are some ways to establish sound personal boundaries without alienating the guys on the other side.
  1. Start as you mean to go on. Setting and maintaining good “fences” from the outset will always be easier and less contentious than trying to establish them when others have become used to walking all over your patch.

  2. Be firm. Your boundaries are going to be tested. Others will try to take more time, energy, and personal space than you are willing to give. It’s tempting to give in a little, if only for the sake of seeming flexible. Don’t do it. It will always be harder to eject a squatter than stop them entering in the first place.

  3. Be crystal clear where your boundaries are. You can’t really blame the organization or the boss for trespassing on your private time, or requiring unreasonable work out of working hours, if you haven’t made it clear what you will do willingly, what you will do only in a true emergency, and what is going too far at any time.

  4. Defend against incursions. However clearly you lay down your barriers, there will be times when others cross them. If you don’t defend yourself, they’ll assume the boundaries weren’t meant seriously.

  5. Set your boundaries carefully. It’s well worth taking the time to be absolutely certain of where your boundaries should lie. If you aren’t sure, how can anyone else be? Constantly shifting them won’t work either. It will tempt others to assume that your decisions on boundaries are weak and easily changed.

  6. Negotiate when there is no dispute. The worst time of all to try to resolve any boundary problems is when they are in dispute. Don’t wait until the boss expects something you aren’t prepared to give to talk about the whole issue. By then, emotions are aroused and firm positions taken. If you have the good sense to discuss boundaries when everyone is relaxed and can see one another’s needs rationally, it will give you a handsome pay-off. Later, all it will usually take is a polite reminder of what was agreed to get everyone back on their own side of the line.

  7. Don’t violate others’ boundaries yourself. You’ll be in a weak position to defend your own, if it’s known that you’re quite ready to step over the line with others whenever it suits you.

  8. Don’t be a sucker for hard-luck stories. Not every attempt to snatch something inside your boundaries will arrive as an obvious incursion. You’ll face a good many pleas and much wheedling based on claims that it will only happen just this once. Any time you give in sets a precedent and the next incursion will be harder to resist.

  9. Don’t be greedy. Other people also have legitimate claims. Colleagues may reasonably expect a helping hand in a crisis. The organization that pays you has a sound claim for value for its money. The boss can reasonably expect respect basic loyalty. If you push your boundaries out too far, they’ll never be respected, whatever you do.
Establishing and maintaining good personal boundaries works because prevention of abuse is always better than cure. As a human being, you have a moral right to a private life, with time and energy enough to enjoy it. It’s also necessary for physical and mental health. By setting firm boundaries, you’re helping to create a balance between what others may reasonably expect and what you are prepared to give. And by staying firmly in charge of your boundaries, you can relax them if it seems appropriate, and reestablish them afterwards without weakening your position.

Work and the rest of your life are neighbors. As with all neighbors, life is calmest and most pleasant if they co-exist with a minimum of friction. That’s why good fences—and open communication about mutual boundaries—are so important.



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