bound·a·ry /ˈbound(ə)rē/ noun plural noun: boundaries
a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.
a limit of a subject or sphere of activity.
Let me start by saying, boundaries are hard. Establishing them to align with your values to support relationships, decision making, and work ethic is a challenge for skilled leaders, and even more difficult for new leaders - particularly those that don't or haven't had good examples ahead of them.
Boundaries establish permissions for how others are invited to treat us or behave in our presence, and how we will respond when someone meets or perhaps disregards them. We develop our boundaries based on our resilience, social and emotional intelligence, life experience, values and belief systems. Setting boundaries is a skill that many people struggle with.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries help us identify what behaviours we don't deem to be acceptable to us, and in the workplace, there may be organizational/cultural boundaries that could be beneficial, or in some cases, offensive (have you ever worked in an open space office where there was a ping pong table or a gaming console with bean bag chairs in the main collaboration space? Yikes.)
Healthy boundaries are necessary for self-care and personal well-being. Without boundaries, we feel taken for granted, "empty" and in some cases, disregarded or intruded upon. Poor boundaries within the workplace or even in a family unit can leave you feeling hurt, angry, burnt out; each of these leading to resentment and conflict.
Where do boundaries come from?
Boundaries are something that (once again) we begin to learn as a child. When I was a teacher, I remember working with children who had almost no boundaries - they would run in, hug, touch and grab anything that was within their reach. It was difficult to "contain" these kiddos, and there were repetitive discussions (at their level) that took place to "keep the peace" of the room for the other students. Conversely, I also worked with kids that had such rigid boundaries that they didn't know how to engage and play like the other children, which was also a bit disheartening.
There are two frames of thought to explore here:
We adapt to our environment - if we're raised rigid or boundless, we see that as the right way of behaving, regardless of whether it's socially acceptable or not. When we integrate into the world, our learned boundaries either help or hinder us.
We teach people how to treat us - When we realize that we don't like the way someone is behaving, or perhaps we don't like something within our environment, we have the choice on how to respond. (Resilience Link: Emotional Regulation).
The beautiful part about boundaries is that we can continually assess and challenge ourselves and the boundaries we have. For example:
I love social media; I love peeking into the underbelly of society and seeing what people are thinking. I don't need to know someone's name or identity to relish in the thoughts and pull the social threads to learn (hey, I'm a social science nerd, what can I say?!) One of the boundaries I have is around my socials. I use each platform for something specific that meets my social needs.
Facebook? Friends and family - if you're not in that category, I'm not adding you.
Twitter? I lurk and read, I don't have any personal connections; I use it as a social compass on politics and social tensions. No one even knows I exist on there.
LinkedIn? 100% professional - there is very little cross pollination across other platforms. The chances of you being my Facebook friend and connected to me on LinkedIn are probably about 5%.
Instagram? Purely used for my athletic pursuits.
SnapChat? Strictly used to communicate with my teen daughter and her friends. (It's their social space of choice, I've been there since 2017 with them!)
Now listen, I have some people who are across multi-threads, but that's because I trust them or know them very, very well. I'm authentically myself in every possible way, so it's not about having different personalities, it's about having boundaries that make sense to me. Not everyone in the athletic world needs to know my personal family story - not everyone on LinkedIn needs to know my athletic story, and the SnapChat people .. well .. most of them are 17 years old. I'm pretty much a mole for their parents and they don't even realize it. :)
In addition to that, to protect my mental well being, I've drastically limited time on social media, and in particular, have disengaged from my following on Instagram. Someone asked me why I wasn't online more and my response was simple: I don't follow athletes for their political opinions. I don't care what they think about the government, I care about their goals and their milestones, competitions and success, learning from failure. I care about leveraging their knowledge to become a better athlete. Right now, they're not giving me anything useful in that sphere of influence.... so I'm out.
My boundaries are firm when it comes to my mental health and well being, I choose what I consume, .. full stop.
What do unhealthy boundaries look like?
Unhealthy boundaries often suffocate personal growth and well being. People with underdeveloped boundaries may:
over-share personal information about themselves
not share anything about themselves at all
not express their personal wants and needs
hold personal responsibility for the actions of others
feel responsible for the happiness of others
have little to no sense of identity
have poor self perception
allow others to make decisions on their behalf, therefore taking no personal responsibility
feel helpless and powerless
What do healthy boundaries look like?
Healthy boundaries encourage personal growth and positive esteem, they're often demonstrated by people who have high self-esteem and self-respect. These people can:
share personal information in appropriate manners, with the right pace of a relationship
protect their personal and emotional space from being violated by others
be assertive and can comfortably say yes and no to things that don't serve them
be okay when someone says no to them
feel empathy and respectfully recognize that everyone has different boundaries
make healthy choices and take personal responsibility for themselves and their actions
How do you manage boundaries for yourself during change?
I think it's particularly important for people to manage their personal boundaries through change. It can be a hard time to do that, but here are some tips for you to consider when leading yourself or others through change:
Take your breaks during the day. Don't spend the day grinding at the keyboard. The work will be there when you get back.
Don't work on weekends. I know it's alluring to try and "get ahead of the curve" but taking time to sharpen the axe makes you that much more effective on a Monday morning.
Focus on YOUR OWN work. What are you doing that isn't your responsibility?
Assess meeting invites - No agenda, no attenda! Also - is that meeting a MUST attend for you? Does the responsibility belong to someone else? Are you just "top cover"?
Have "tells" that show others when you're in flow (e.g.: headphones on, door closed)
Don't gossip. It's just bad press and doesn't serve you or your organization.
Articulate your needs and how you like to give or receive feedback.
Communicate clearly and with concrete language - stay away from wishy washy words and tactics.
There are many ways to assess and define your own personal boundaries. Sometimes it means working with others or seeking feedback from others. If you're feeling tapped out or perhaps undervalued, maybe it's time for you to assess your boundaries and see what you can do to help yourself out.
Want to discuss your personal boundary strategy? Need some support with creating healthy boundaries within your team during change? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!