|By Daniel Robin
"So what happened to you? Its like youve gone M.I.A.
"My job ate my life," Tom sighed, as the two high-tech workers sipped their
"May I offer a suggestion? Push back a little. Your life is more important."
"Yeah, but Im actually into it," Tom explained, "and theres
so much to do "
"Great, and there always will be," she says with a wink. "You know you
wont do anybody any good if you fry."
Like two nations caught in a territory dispute, human boundaries are invisible
and often violated. Boundaries are limits that are always present, spoken or unspoken,
honored or overstepped. A so-called "healthy" boundary reflects balance between
distance and intimacy, between time spent working and at leisure, between your interests
Where Have All the Boundaries Gone?
Do you remember a time before there was traffic? (Me neither, but I read about it.)
When our cities were uncrowded, when the next town was a major journey, and the moon was
inconceivable? Now theres fax technology and the Internet, the population
explosion and jet travel
we are literally one big, gnarly community.
Why then, you may ask, dont we act like one? Probably because were
literally in each others face, and it takes conscious effort to work out the healthy
boundary thing. Also, the rules arent as clear as in nature, where animals set
boundaries by marking out their unique territory. In the workplace
its not quite so obvious.
With healthy interpersonal and personal/professional boundaries you can
- Do your best work, contribute sustainably, ensuring adequate reward for your
efforts. A healthy personal/professional boundary is the subtle key to maintaining life
balance: work at your commitments, do not "over-perform" or say "yes"
to unreasonable requests. Get clear on your limits and powerfully express them.
- Get results with literally anyone even people you dont happen to
like, or with whom you seem to disagree
- Work well with those who have lousy boundaries. For example, take a coworker who
has been staying late several evenings each week, and then snaps at you because you
arent. Or the "human can-opener," prying into your personal affairs, or
trying to "fix" you when you just wanted to vent. Then theres the
"time bandit" who doesnt mind stealing your day, "Really, just 5
minutes" at a time.
At first you can probably just ignore them, then give a subtle non-verbal hint like
glancing at your watch and raising an eyebrow. If that doesnt work, speak up and
politely assert your healthy boundary. Otherwise, youll be "taken
prisoner", and the victim-victimizer chain will spread.
Its important to speak up about garden-variety interpersonal boundaries when
someone steps on toes, breaks a policy, or blows an agreement. Being direct demands
Permission is Better than Forgiveness
Hows your skill at honoring other peoples boundaries? Do you remember to
"ask permission" before invading their personal space? For example, when
initiating a conversation, do you ask "Is this a good moment?" or "Do you
have about 10 minutes to go over your comments or should I come back after lunch?" or
"Are you open to discussing this project right now?"
No matter what their response, this says you are aware that you are interrupting, you
want their full attention, and are willing to hear their truth.
Healthy boundaries are essential to getting things done and building relationships that
last. Indeed, the practice of skillfully setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is as
close to a "magic ticket" as anything I know.
With healthy limits, you safely go about doing your best work; without them, either you
or the company will eventually take a hit. Whats one boundary youll set this
Continue with Part 2: Skills to Set and Maintain
Healthy Workplace Boundaries
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