Many professionals find that they spend more time at the office than they do at home.  This can often lead to a level of friendship being formed with coworkers, clients and others you may communicate with regularly.  Developing these sort of connections can be very healthy in the workplace; however, it can also lead to difficulties when trying to maintain proper boundaries as well.

It is important for every business to establish a set of communication boundaries.  These boundaries will allow safe connections that foster a healthier communication style across the board.  As employees practice and gain a clear understanding for these boundary conditions, including their specific role, it provides a level of confidence when interacting with various clients and/or service providers.

Professional Boundaries to Consider
  • Establish core values and a level of professionalism to be followed by anyone working with or for your company
  • Avoid any behavior that may be deemed as unprofessional, such as using profanity or your position to influence a situation, etc.
  • When sharing personal information, ensure these details align with the goals you are currently focused on
  • Be conscious of how your words may be interpreted, not just what you mean to say
  • Develop a healthy work-life balance to avoid ‘emotional response’ to situation(s)

More often than not, there are warning signs that let you know boundary issues may arise.  Once this is evident, it is important to address the issues with your client or service provider right away.  The sooner you handle the situation, the better.

Managing Boundary Issues
  • Establish boundary conditions within the first few interactions with a client or service provider. This can be done by communicating your availability, the best way to communicate with you, along with providing contact information for who they can reach out to in your absence.
  • When the first warning sign appears, address your concerns with the client/service provider immediately
  • Pay attention to choices, decisions being made, a shift in direction and interactions, along with any other circumstances that may conflict with company core values and/or knowledge about best practices
  • Be sensitive to their feelings as you address the situation
  • Emphasize the importance of, and your commitment to, healthy boundaries
  • Clarify boundaries and confirm they understand (this also provides an opportunity for clarifying questions to be asked)
  • Discuss concerns that arise with your supervisor and coworkers to gain their input, support and assistance in resolving boundary/communication issues
  • Always follow up with an email after any interaction or when a project is completed to inform to ensure there is documentation that confirm responsibilities, services and action items to keep everyone on the same page

Not even the most experienced employee can anticipate every situation in which challenges to professional boundaries may arise.  At the same time, every employee should examine how these conditions enhance or harm professional relationships.  Here are a few strategies to consider when trying to maintain boundaries that are both safe and appropriate in the workplace.

Maintaining Professional Boundaries
  • Examine the motivation for providing extra time, effort and energy on to particular clients.
  • Confirm your level of engagement remains congruent with the current service offering, and is aligned with your job description to ensure boundaries are not overextended
  • Use your company’s standard communication process when working with clients to ensure there is a level of consistency

Always be kind and display a level of respect when interacting with coworkers, clients, and service providers – no matter how hard it may be.  In the end, you are ultimately responsible for the way you communicate and respond to others.