Drawing boundaries between your personal and professional life – Navigating relationships at work


I love working with professional Millennials, being able to help them set themselves up for success and getting a head start on key behaviors is incredibly rewarding!

Being a young professional is both exciting and challenging. It is a wonderful time of growth as a young adult and as a professional. It can be hard to muddle through the embarrassment or doubt that people may throw your way when they find out just how young you really are.

Many of us spend the majority of our days at work, work also quite frequently bleed into our life at home so creating boundaries around our workplace is critical. It also shows your superior, clients and colleagues that you have a backbone. When you respect your personal boundaries, others typically will, too – in turn it often translates to respecting You! Remember that you teach people how to treat you.

Creating boundaries at work can get tricky, because for some, there’s the real worry of being demoted or fired. Yet with clear communication, practice and preparation it can be done and it is one way to earn the respect of others – Tact.

It’s often easier to set boundaries when you first start a job and the sooner you realize the importance of this and put it into practice, the better off you’ll be in your professional and private life. For instance, when defining your boundaries, consider these factors: Under what circumstances and conditions you’ll work overtime; which people, if any, you’ll give your personal cell phone number, who to connect with on social media and if you’ll date co-workers, to name a few. For your own sanity, set boundaries at home. For instance, you check email before dinner and then put away your devices so you can spend the rest of the evening practicing a hobby, social time, eating with your family, and reading bedtime stories to your kids

Know your values.

Understanding your values helps you figure out where you’d like to set boundaries. In other words, by first knowing your values, you’re able to then set up systems that help you get those needs met. For instance, you may have several side passions that are important to you such as volunteering, sailing or coaching little league . Because you want to make time for those passions, you have to create strict boundaries around working overtime or being available at all hours.

Communicate clearly.

This is key at any point of your career, just like it is crucial in any relationship – really. Lay out your limits very clearly. If you don’t want your colleagues and clients to contact you at all hours, verbally tell them the hours you will be available for work-related conversations. In the same scenario, it’s also important to figure out what constitutes an “emergency,” and clearly communicate that as well.

For the young professional, a big part of maturity and healthy professionalism is being willing to ask questions. The people at work who are meant to support you will likely know that you are a fresh face in the working world. If they hired you, then they want to help you grow as a professional. Asking questions and showing interest in being a quality employee is not only a sign of maturity, but an opportunity for you to gain great insight and show people that you want to move forward. An important thing to point out here, is to ask the right questions at the right time! Find a moment that your boss is not swamped to chat and make sure to stay informed by looking in any manuals or handbooks for your questions before you ask so you don’t waste their time.

Know when to zip it – Especially in a group setting.

Deliver your facts, engage in the conversation if invited to partake, keep your emotions in check and when you are done delivering your presentation, sit back and say nothing. The power of silence!

Discretion can really be the better part of valor.  I hate to say this, because it shouldn’t be this way, but there is such a thing as too much honesty – Especially in a group situation. Don’t lie, but know when, how, and to whom you deliver the unvarnished truth.  There are parts of any business that depend highly on confidence, and if you openly question a major initiative, no matter how right you may be, you’ll do irreparable damage to the project.  Some workers are just looking for an excuse not to do something, and if you’re pointing out flaws in front of the entire team without being asked? You’re giving them an excuse.

Is it fair?  No. Absolutely not.  But before you open your mouth, ask yourself if there’s going to be any side effects to your honesty. If your opinion is asked for by a superior, even if you’re in a group setting and you know they’re not going to like your answer, give it anyway. They asked. Their fault. And politely tell them afterwards when you’re one on one that you really wish they wouldn’t have put you in that position.

Bring up a boundary or violation right away.

When boundaries are violated, it’s not uncommon for people to get upset, ruminate about the situation for days or weeks and then bring it up a month later.

However, so much can transpire during that time that the person may not understand where you’re coming from. Instead, it’s important to reinforce and exercise your boundary in the moment or very close to it, because if you don’t, it simply loses its power.

A big one is office gossip –  You don’t want to get roped into the drama, tell them clearly and politely in that moment that you don’t want to participate. This is much more effective than having your colleague spill the beans, and then telling them two weeks later that you wish they hadn’t told you. Gossip is a downward spiral that can lead to diminished productivity, resentment, shattered morale and damaged trust. If you are worried what [they] will think of you, I would counsel you to pay no attention to that “concern”. However, if you do worry, there isalways a way to be clear but not hurtful nor coming across as arrogant. This takes practice and finesse, but the sooner you start, the easier it will get.

Fostering relationships with co-workers is essential, but your professional life is most secure if you stay away from office gossip. Recognize it for what it is. Since you both know the same person, a gossiper typically assumes you’ll want to connect on some level in sharing your feelings about them. They forget that you left that mindset back in high school.

  • Shift the conversation to something else you have in common.It may be a hobby, a sports team or a favorite local restaurant.

Stay away from it. Successful people withdraw completely from office gossip. Prove that you’re the bigger person, and beat a wide path around it.

  • Gracefully remove yourself from the conversation.This may mean taking breaks or lunch at a different time than the gossip does. Or, come up with an excuse, such as “I have to make a quick call before the meeting begins.”
  • Train yourself to recognize key words and topics that have the potential to be harmful.These could include criminal activities, alcoholism, addiction, infidelity, sexuality, or anything that reveals otherwise confidential medical, work or personal information.

Be direct in confronting it. Politely and directly confront gossips by asking, in a professional fashion, “Why are you telling me this?” When you address what the gossiper is doing – head on – you take some of the fun out of it. As a result, it’s more likely to go away before any serious damage is done.

Don’t fall victim to it. Always be cautious in what you tell others about yourself, your personal life, and your activities – whether they involve co-workers or not.

  • Learn to take everything you hear about others with a grain of salt, regardless of the source.Office gossip is likely third-hand, or worse. Various people have put their spin on it, embellishing the original story and further removing it from the truth.

Remember, without any exception, subtlety is the key.

Create structure.

One way to create structure – and thereby establish a boundary – is to have an agenda, even if it’s a meeting between you and your manager. An agenda is more efficient, and positions you as a professional, especially if that person is treating you as an inferior in some way. When setting an agenda, include a start and end time along with topics to discuss.

Another way to create structure is to hold a meeting. For instance, let’s say your boss has a habit of coming over to your desk for 30 minutes at a time to chat. Instead, suggest having a weekly 15-minute check-in. You have to present a compelling case that shows the benefits to them. You might mention that this check-in is more efficient and saves them time with less back and forth. Taking charge of the situation does not only help create structure, cut down on frustration but it also shows leadership!

Focus on concrete explanations.

When you’re setting a boundary at work, it’s not necessarily productive to talk from your personal perspective. In other words, if your boss makes an unreasonable request, avoid statements such as “I’m really stressed” or “I have too much to do.”

It sounds like it’s all about you, and like you’re whining. No one likes a whiner!

Instead, frame your explanations in something concrete, in terms of how it’s going to affect other projects, clients or your bottom line. “Make it relevant to your boss.” For instance, “If I spend my time on X, we’re going to lose this big client,” or “there won’t be enough time to do Y.”

Also, if your boss makes an unreasonable request, it’s important to first clarify what the request is really about, think about why your boss may be making this request.

Instead of turning inward and catastrophizing, turn outward. Engage your boss. You might say something like: “Tell me more about why this is important/ why you need this done.”

Doing so helps to diffuse your anxiety response, which sabotages your ability to think rationally. It also opens the door to negotiating a more reasonable and mutually beneficial option.

Prepare for violations.

It’s helpful to visualize your boundaries getting crossed, and how you’re going to handle those situations. For instance, imagine your boss emails you on Saturday, visualize processing your reaction and creating a plan of action.

Will you reply right away? Will you respond Monday morning, apologize and say you were with your family?

This way, when a moment like this comes up, you won’t be” hijacked by your emotions”. You’ll be able to handle it much more rationally and refer to the protocol you already have in place. It is always a good idea and important to keep emotions in check and preferably out of professional discussions, negotiations and meetings.

Building boundaries takes time and practice and your boundaries will get crossed along the way. Instead of viewing violations as taking a step back, see them as something instructive, and an opportunity to gain insight and improve on your boundary setting. It will be worth your while!

About Inspiring Result

I am a thought leader who want to live in a world where people feel excited about doing what they choose to do, fulfilled and in a place where there is room to reach the level of success desired; enjoy laughter, loved ones and fulfilling conversations. I am a Success Coach, with close to two decades of experience with a background in traditional counseling, Sport Psychology and a degree in Strategic Interventions from Robbins-Madenas Training Center. I've been applauded for my straight forward, warm approach working with a range of clients from many high profile regulars, organizations to the 'girl next door'. When I'm not immersed in my coaching world I can be found on adventure with my family, in the barn with our horses or burying my toes in the sand. Integrating what I believe in every single area of my life, I do not try to balance the mythical scales so that work and family demands and rewards are exactly even. Rather, I trying to understand this: Accurately assessing the nature of [one's] own personalities, sense of self-identity, and the degree of control over work and family lives is crucial to finding satisfaction. Balance is not the goal, a healthy prioritized integration is. My work has been a warm welcome into many busy lives and is offered as a structured one on one program, workshops and educational sessions on a consulting basis, talking about how to successfully identify and reach goals by strategically gaining clarity. Currently I'm passionately working on integrating generations in today's workforce; creating a business culture where talent is retained and can thrive, not only Millennial talent but all talent throughout the organization! As your strategist, I am driven by your results and your success!