Professional boundaries to consider

Setting and maintaining boundaries is an important aspect in professional settings.

Boundaries define what one feels is acceptable and unacceptable in relationships with others. Chances are high there are certain topics or words you do not use in your professional life. It’s not that the conversations you may have are bad; they just are not appropriate in a professional setting.

When setting boundaries, consider organizational rules, personal preferences, societal expectations and the well-being of others with whom you interact. The task of setting boundaries may seem daunting at first, but it is an important step in professional settings. It is important to remember everyone’s boundaries are going to be different, which is OK. However, for healthy and acceptable relationships, some specific boundaries must be in place.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following examples to consider. Some of these examples may bother you while others may not.

  • A co-worker gives you a hug.
  • About twice a month your co-worker borrows money to use the office vending machine and “forgets” to pay you back.
  • Your co-worker intentionally listens in on a phone conversation you are having with your significant other.
  • Your co-worker sings (or plays the radio) at their desk.
  • A co-worker borrows something from your office with asking.
  • A co-worker got permission to borrow something from you, but returned it damaged and didn’t say anything about the damage.
  • Your co-worker frequently asks if you would like to support their child’s school fundraiser by buying something.
  • You offhandedly mention you have a headache and your co-worker brings you several homeopathic remedies to try.
  • You are out for lunch with co-workers and they start gossiping about other colleagues.
  • A co-worker calls your cell phone early in the morning, late in the evening or on the weekend.
  • A co-worker sends a quick text message question when you are out sick or on vacation.
  • Without saying a word, your co-worker answers their phone when the two of you are having a meeting.
  • Every day your co-worker leaves their coffee mug in the sink for someone else to wash.
  • A co-worker is five minutes late for a meeting or an event.
  • Every morning you say “Hello” or “Good morning” as you pass each person in the office, but your co-worker never says “Hello” back.
  • Your co-worker rolls their eyes whenever they don’t like a suggestion or comment you make.
  • Your co-worker emails your office address funny cat videos and those “forward this on to 10 people…” emails.

In some of these examples, it is easy to decipher the appropriate boundaries for a professional setting while others are more on the spectrum of gray and depend on personal preferences. It is important to communicate your boundaries with others and also know there will be times when boundaries get crossed. To navigate how to handle when someone’s boundaries have been crossed, please read the MSU Extension article, “When boundaries are crossed.” It is important to remember that boundaries vary depending on the nature of the relationship

For more information on boundaries, you may want to consider reading the MSU Extension article, “Things to consider when posting online – Part 1: Boundaries.” MSU Extension has a variety of resources related to setting boundaries in the Ready to Go: A Mentor Training Toolkit curriculum.

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