Navigating Personal Boundaries at Work

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personal boundaries

Navigating Personal Boundaries at Work

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Trampled on again. That is the feeling employees sometimes have after the water cooler encounter or the high anxiety staff meeting. Are you effectively navigating personal boundaries at work?

First, let’s frame the boundaries. Harassment, bullying, or mobbing is another different discussion. This is more of a, “How do I navigate difficult personalities?” or “How do I navigate the organizational culture?” discussion.

Personal Boundaries

There are several golden rules about boundaries. Boundaries are:

  1. an individual experience or perception;
  2. not the same for everyone;
  3. once set, they’ll likely be tested.

Personal boundaries are important for our success, mental health, and physical health. They’re also important for job satisfaction, career growth, and ultimately our pay grade.

People often describe boundary violations by stating that they feel disrespected, taken advantage of, discounted, trampled, used, ignored, overworked, underutilized, or completely overwhelmed.

Many boundaries are broken because someone doesn’t understand the boundary.

Not all resolutions are the same. People often state, “I know I need to set boundaries with my boss.” Yes, perhaps, but how, when, or even if that is the best move can be in question.

Being angry with your boss because he or she gives you grief when you’re chronically 15-minutes late is not the bosses problem, it’s yours.

Feeling underemployed and making waves about it when there are not more advanced opportunities at the organization will not create the opportunities you seek.

Taking Action

Appropriate actions require careful assessment. This is not a one size fits all. You’ll have to give it the reasonability test.

Here are a few questions to get started:

  • What is my role in this situation?
  • Are workplace politics, downsizing, or rapid growth fueling this problem?
  • Is the scenario I’m struggling with part of the organizational culture?
  • Is this problem connected to a personality conflict or just a misunderstanding?
  • If I make a move to set a boundary how will that be perceived?

Assertive professionals often hit obstacles and roadblocks when they want more than what the organization can offer at this time, when there is a significant organizational change, or both.

In other cases, a broken boundary may be a conflict with just one individual.

Some boundaries you can set and appropriately maintain. Others, well, it may mean to escape the problem you’ll need to escape the organization.

Culture is top-down, you likely won’t change it from the bottom or middle.


Would employee training or coaching help? Contact me.

Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and culture expert. He is a five-time author and the founder of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. His business focuses on positive human performance improvement solutions through Appreciative Strategies®. Reach him through his website at or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

Dennis Gilbert on Google+

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