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How do I establish personal boundaries with people at work?

I have always believed that while at work, we are at work. We are present and professional. I’m in management, and other managers have frowned upon me hanging out with anyone of a lower level than I. But I don’t think that is needed if you have created personal boundaries with the people you work with.

How to establish personal boundaries with people at work

5 tips when setting personal boundaries

1. Hanging out with your staff outside of work…

How to establish personal boundaries

I have always been taught that you represent certain aspects of your life, like school, your workplace, or your parents. For example, I represent my business as the owner. I can’t just turn it off and go wild.

If something goes wrong and I end up on the news, or people find out, they will associate my poor behavior with the values of my company. Even when I worked in the clothing retail industry, I felt this way.

So when I wanted to, let’s say, go out to dinner with my employees, I would invite them. They would come out and meet me at the restaurant. I would NOT go pick them up. I would NOT behave inappropriately. I would try to end the dinner at a decent time.

Inasmuch as I can be a friend, I am still their boss. I don’t ever want to blur the lines, because if I did, then they would think bad behavior was acceptable at work. But it’s not.

2. If you work with any family members, create clear boundaries.

My second business was given to me by my dad. So I worked with him for a long time. When I was 15, I was in the downstairs of our house (where the company started), and I was helping my dad with shipping.

As I was helping, he came up to me, in the middle of the office filled with employees, and yelled at me about something NOT work-related. He yelled at me as his child and not as his employee. It was very uncomfortable and I felt humiliated in front of others.

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After he was done, I asked him to step outside for a private conversation. This is what he should have done to begin with. We were on the porch in the back of the house and I explained to him that his behavior at that time was inappropriate. When I am at work for him, I am not his daughter, I am one of his staff.

He should talk to me with the same respect as any of the other employees. It makes for a volatile workplace if he was to continue treating me like a child in front of others. They won’t be happy in such an environment either.

I told him that while I worked for him, I felt it best if he called me Ashley and I call him by his name. Not ‘baby girl’, or whatever nickname. Then, when off work, we could go back to the nicknames.

This way, it would create clear personal boundaries. He could also gauge his behavior towards me and what was acceptable or not. He agreed, and from that day forward, work was much better.

3. If you have too many friends asking for a discount…

How to establish personal boundaries

This is very difficult to establish, but it needs to be done. Most companies frown upon giving out discount anyways, but telling your friends this is hard.

For example: what if you have a friend who just bought a new house. They recall you work at a home living store; so they call you up to help furnish their entire house.

This takes up a ton of time. Your friend would have to look up what they want online. Then you have to take the list to work and buy everything. Of course, they have to pay you back. Money is involved, which makes it awkward with friends. What if your co-workers ask?

It’s just weird. If you allow yourself to do such favors, you might feel burnt out and admit you can’t do it anymore. This could hurt your friendships. Plus, work policies may not have allowed it in the first place.

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So it’s really better to establish personal boundaries from the beginning. Tell your friends that you can only allow one discount per person, or that you’re not allowed to give discounts at all. The rule is to set limits upfront.

4. What if you sleep with a co-worker, then become a manager?

This happens! No judgement here. My rule for this is to make it a non-issue as much as possible.

You can either: a) have a conversation with the other party and tell them to never speak of what happened ever again and to work as usual; OR b) you can just skirt the whole subject and never talk about it.

Both I think will work, depending on the person involved. But if they got attached in any way, it might not work. You might need to work around the awkwardness until the other party possibly quits because they can’t take it. I have found that this rarely happens. Usually, you can just say ‘thanks for that, but let’s never talk about it again’.

Of course, it does tend to be difficult to earn respect from that person. But hopefully, they will come around in time. Best thing to do is set personal boundaries and NEVER sleep with anyone you work with in the first place.

5. What if you invite a friend to a business meeting or dinner?

How to establish personal boundaries

You will need to establish personal boundaries before the meeting. Make sure to pick a friend who doesn’t have a history of getting so drunk they become embarrassing.

On the way to the event, explain that drinks are free, BUT set a limit to maybe one or two and that’s it. Make sure your friend understands that this is your job and your livelihood on the line. They are not to embarrass you. They are there to lift you up and be a professional themselves.

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I recall a scene from the show, The Hills, when Lauren got her friends into a business outing and they got so drunk they were kicked out. Lauren should have set personal boundaries from the beginning. She should’ve talked to them during the event.

After that whole thing, she got a talk from her boss. But in real life, she most likely would have been fired. There were some high-end clients and it would have shown poorly on the host of the event.

The fiasco seemed to make clients believe that this sort of behaviour was tolerated by the magazine. It made them look unprofessional. Don’t think you can’t bring friends to work events. You can – you just need to have a talk beforehand. Make sure to invite the right friends as well.

There are several ways to create personal boundaries between your work and real life. But for the most part, it’s all about communication. You just need to talk to people involved and create those clear boundaries. (You can read more about the best conflict resolution and management books available.)

Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable and occasionally, you will assume everyone knows common sense. But they often don’t. So don’t assume. Speak out loud about the boundaries you expect.

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