Sometimes when the word boundary is used it can be perceived as a four-letter word. This is because for some, setting boundaries means putting up a wall, blocking people out, disabling their attempts to influence. These people are intrinsically motivated so standing up for their needs supersedes the needs of everyone else.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some who have established their needs and values but allow the needs of others to overcome theirs. Persons with compromised boundaries allow their limits to be overpowered because it is their perception they do not have a choice, they feel disempowered.
Then there are those with no boundaries who encroach on the limits of those who will allow it. In some cases, they have no issue with this because they have no boundaries themselves and don’t perceive what they are doing as inappropriate. In other cases, boundaries are disrespected by leaders who only care about getting the work done. These leaders call, text and email coworkers at all hours of the night, or during other personal time which includes vacation.
Some persons have healthy boundaries. They make decisions according to their needs and values, and consider the needs of others. Whatever their decision, it is a decision that is made which considers both their personal value system in conjunction with the greater good of the team. Not because of a sense of being coerced, but because of the understanding that collaboration can be optimized when team members work well together.
At an individual level, a boundary is a unique construction, it may change depending on the relationship with a coworker or it can be inflexible. It is based on your internal value system which defines reasonable ways others can act toward you and how you will respond to those who act in an unacceptable way. As a leader, knowing your boundaries is key to your ability to lead an engaged team and to achieve outstanding results.
Here are seven tips you can use to manage healthy boundaries:
- Define your boundaries (In terms of what you will allow yourself and others to do.)
- Recognize when your boundaries have been crossed. As I have already pointed out, some persons have no boundaries whatsoever, and they behave as though no-one else has any either. They infringe on the boundaries of others with no hesitation. Sometimes this can manifest as harassment or even bullying, but regardless of how it shows up, it is important to realize when an attempt is being made to cross your boundaries so you can take corrective action in the moment.
- Clarify your feelings about boundary violations. There is no need to withdraw or to allow your anger to build until it turns to rage. Identify your feelings about the violations and seek to peacefully put your boundaries in place.
- Reinforce your boundaries respectfully. Persons who allow their limits to be crossed as well as persons who have no boundaries at all are sometimes extrinsically motivated by external pressures to comply. Shifting to intrinsic motivation means being guided by your internal compass, not allowing the preferences or thoughts of others to cause you to do something that violates your sense of self.
- Start with small steps. Setting boundaries can create a shock to the system of workplace behaviours. Persons will not understand or accept your changes in behaviour initially so it is important to appreciate that when you have a history of not establishing boundaries, then you put some in place, your resolve will be tested by multiple attempts to violate your new parameters.
- Give yourself permission. This means you should permit yourself to display empowered, boundary setting behaviours that may be rejected by others, causing you to be marginalized for daring to push back.
- Don’t allow yourself to be overcome with guilt and fear when establishing and reinforcing your boundaries. Boundaries are necessary for your well-being. Reinforcing them allows you to be authentic, and empowered.
How you can support boundary setting within your team:
In your role as a leader, it is important to recognize when you are encroaching on the boundaries of others, especially when they don’t feel safe about speaking up and letting you know they are uncomfortable with your request. It is important to understand that you cannot use your opinion about boundaries to be the standard. This approach does not take the diversity of your team into consideration
It is equally important for members of your team to respect each other’s boundaries. One way to achieve this is to facilitate a boundary setting team conversation which establishes reasonable and acceptable behaviours. For example, in your role as leader, consistently interrupting an employee three to ten times within an hour amounts to crossing the line. So if you are guilty of some of the boundary crossing behaviours, keep in mind that if you participate in this conversation there may be some suggestions you do not agree with. If this happens, remember, this is not about you, it is about the health of your team, and your ability to build and sustain trust and respect.
When supporting members of your team with establishing and respecting healthy boundaries it is important to:
- Allow each team member to state their desired boundaries. This helps define acceptable behaviours by establishing what coworkers can say or do, how they do it etc.
- Establish boundary guidelines for the team and communicate them.
- When executing the boundary conscious behaviours, create safe space. Safe space is needed for persons to express their preferences either when a stated boundary is being ignored or when they see the need to create a new boundary. However, safe space is not enough, all team members need to be held accountable to boundary respectful behaviours.
It is useful to note that if, as a leader, you are unable to manage your own boundaries, it will be difficult for you to hold members of your team accountable to boundary conscious behaviours that promote engagement. So remember, mastery of boundary setting begins with managing your own boundaries first. The next step is to ensure the boundaries of your coworkers are being respected.