Setting boundaries at the workplace

Each time her manager would call for a meeting, my friend Isha would groan.

‘There he goes again. He will set the meeting time for 11am but we never begin on time because he is never there. He is always late.’

‘Did you raise this point with him Isha,’ I asked.

Confused, the girl looked at me. I know the question that was racing through her mind at that moment – did she even have the right to put that across?

Respect for colleagues and their time is a critical aspect for successful teamwork. 

Yet, many managers may feign innocence because it may have never been pointed out to them that when they are late for the meeting, they are crossing a boundary that makes them seem disrespectful of other’s time and priorities.

Defining boundaries

Boundaries, as commonly understand, are limits. They could be physical or verbal separators that create space in our identities, responsibilities, need, etc., from other people. In a professional setting clear-cut boundaries help clarify roles and responsibilities. 

Often colleagues complain that they do not know where their role begins and where it ends. This issue rears its ugly head almost at every appraisal meeting. The responsibility buck gets shifted from one person to another. In the end, the task lands up as non-one’s baby. The cycle of mediocrity thus gets perpetuated. If job definitions and boundaries are clear, it makes the whole task much easier.

Maintaining clear lines

If you pause to think of it, boundaries are not so much about the person as much it is about our own feelings. What do you feel when your manager comes in late? What happens to you when at an interview meeting, you are just kept waiting with no information? Or later not given feedback as to why you were not selected…

Let me give an example of boundaries at the personal level. How do you feel when as a parent you are not able to let go of your adult child and expect her/him to follow the same behavior patterns as you? You get up early so should your child. You eat breakfast at time. So should your child. Sounds familiar does it not?

When you are aware of your own feelings during a situation you can shift through your boundaries and pinpoint exactly what is bothering you. Once you do that, you will be able to move ahead and find solutions. This is in line with one of my earlier posts wherein I had mentioned about ‘if you can name it, you can tame it.’

Get in touch with your feelings

When you think your boundaries are being crossed, it would be good to keep a handy check list and ask yourself a few questions regarding how you feel about the situation:

  • Are you angry?
  • Do you feel as though you have been taken for a ride?
  • Do you feel violated?
  • Are you feeling resentful?
  • Does a feeling of isolation engulf you?
  • Do you feel frightened?
  • Do you find yourself in an irritable mood that engulfs your other healthy relationships too?
  • Do you feel helpless just like a child would?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, it is time to redefine your boundaries and examine where you stand vis-à-vis trust and delegation.

An easy way out is to state what you feel but in a respectful manner. You would be surprised at the understanding your manager may show when you express your feelings on late commencement of meetings. 

Boundaries v/s control

Boundaries are very personal. The kind of space you may want in a relationship whether personal or professional may vary from the same space someone else may carve out for themselves.

What is healthy for your may not be healthy for someone else.

Being aware of your own self and establishing boundaries that make you comfortable and be at peace allows you to let go of ‘controlling’ someone else.

Think about it: when you do not set boundaries, you allow other to control and perhaps even dominate over you.

Pay attention to the boundaries you wish to set and practice setting them.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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