Dear Colleagues and friends,

Whenever I see a person who struggles with others not treating them with the appropriate respect, even though they may be wonderful, caring and loving human beings, I immediately identify the need to help them define or redefine the area of establishing boundaries in their life.  Once they pay attention to this area, their whole world can change.

Why are boundaries so important and how do they impact our lives?

Healthy boundaries are necessary components for self-care. Without boundaries, we feel depleted, taken advantage of, taken for granted, or intruded upon. Boundaries help us take care of ourselves by giving us permission to say NO to things without feeling guilty, knowing that if we refuse to draw the line, we may allow ourselves to become abused, or overextended.  

Personal boundaries are therefore important because they set the basic guidelines of how you want to be treated. They help us establish how others can behave around us and help us set the guidelines to ensure that relationships can be mutually respectful, appropriate, and caring. For example, they may define what behaviour is okay and what is not and how to respond if someone oversteps those limits.

It is important to set boundaries in the workplace as well as in our private lives.  But first, let’s look at how boundaries impact general relationships:

LANGUAGE AND SHARING INFORMATION

To understand the role of boundaries in language and sharing information let’s look at examples of healthy and unhealthy boundaries.  Consider the following:

UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES are characterised by:

  • Sharing too much too soon or, at the other end of the spectrum, closing yourself off and not expressing your need and wants.
  • Feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
  • A weak sense of your own identity.
  • You base how you feel about yourself on how others treat you.
  • You allow others to make decisions for you; consequently, you feel powerless and do not take responsibility for your own life.

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES allow an individual to:

  • Have a healthy self-esteem and self-respect.
  • Share personal information gradually in a mutually sharing and trusting relationship.
  • Protect physical and emotional space from intrusion.
  • Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared.
  • Be assertive. Confidently and truthfully say YES or NO and be OK when others say NO to you.
  • Separate your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires from others. Recognise that your boundaries and needs are different from others.
  • Empower yourself to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself. If you are dealing with someone who is physically dangerous or threatening to you, it may not be safe to attempt to set explicit boundaries with them. If you are in this situation, it can be helpful to work with a counsellor, therapist, or advocate to create a safety plan and boundary setting may be a part of this.

Physical Boundaries

I am sure we have all experienced how various nationalities differ in what is considered appropriate physical boundaries.  For example, people of Latin origin tend to be more boisterous, are comfortable to freely express their emotions and are more inclined to greet others with a hug or a kiss.  This is considered standard courteous behaviour.  On the other hand, Scandinavians tend to be more reserved, less physically responsive and more restrained when they first meet someone.  The same could be said of Asians, who are more inclined to bow as a sign of greeting or salutation than to touch someone during a first meeting.  When dealing with different cultures, it pays to know their traditional “greeting language” and respond accordingly as a sign of respect.

Language

When greeting someone for the first time different ageing groups also have different rules. Baby boomers, for example, prefer a more formal greeting from someone they are meeting for the first time. Being addressed as darling, hon, gorgeous or similar terms as an initial greeting is considered discourteous. In a business setting, it is considered standard practice to always greet a client for the first time with their full name and only address them with their first name after being given permission or once you get to know them better.

Often, we assume that people will respect our boundaries because we were brought up and taught what is acceptable by our family and/or culture. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Although we can choose who we interact with within our personal life such as choosing close friends, this is not always the case in other environments such as work, business, or social community.

We can feel uncomfortable, or even violated if we interact with those who have poor boundaries. In fact, it may be more problematic with people who have mental health issues. Often, we know that our boundaries have been violated by the way we feel. Feelings of confusion, anxiety, or feeling drained around a person may all be signs that our boundaries have been violated.

Narcissists are notorious for violating boundaries and this behaviour appears to be increasing in our culture. Therefore, we must know how to establish healthy emotional, psychological, and physical boundaries in relationships, so we can feel respected and safe. The first step is to know your rights for a healthy relationship.  These include: 

  1. The need to feel safe in a relationship
  2. The need to have your privacy within the boundaries you have created, respected
  3. The need to be heard and listened to
  4. The need to feel validated
  5. The need to be appreciated and valued
  6. The need to respect your answer “no” as meaning “no”
  7. The need to be treated respectfully with the absence of emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.

Identifying your limits in relationships is the first step in maintaining healthy boundaries.

BOUNDARIES IN THE WORKPLACE

Establishing appropriate boundaries in the workplace is of paramount importance as it will set the tone and culture of your establishment.  It will allow your staff to know what is considered the appropriate conduct and behaviour and the expectations by which they will need to comply.  Without workplace boundaries, you are setting yourself up for potential misunderstandings.  Furthermore, without boundaries, it will most likely be impossible to retain uniform standards of conduct, and you will certainly be leaving the door wide open for potential misunderstandings.

So, how do you introduce appropriate boundaries in the workplace? By introducing an HR Workplace Policy Agreement individually with every staff member.

APAN has an excellent 43-page HR Policies and Procedures manual written by our lawyers that is fully aligned with the FairWork requirements.  This document should be used both as a training document, as well as a tool for assessing your staff’s performance at various intervals. If you don’t have this in place, please contact APAN info@apanetwork.com or click here to access it When used correctly this document will improve relationships and alleviate potential conflicts, due to a lack of clear guidelines on conduct and behaviour.

One last word. 

While implementing boundaries in the workplace has its merits, unless you first establish personal boundaries and be prepared to live by them, you will not be able to enforce written boundaries that you don’t reflect through your own behaviour. It is therefore important to be clear about your own values, self-worth and how you expect others to treat you. Be an example of your own standards with how you respect and treat others, this will make it easier for them to identify how you expect them to treat you.