The need for personal boundaries is eternal, but all the more vital when it comes to the workplace. After all, when at work, you want to work – and ideally, as efficiently and productively as possible. If your boundaries are transgressed, then maintaining a high standard of work is incredibly difficult.
However, maintaining personal boundaries can also be incredibly difficult. If you have struggled in this area in the past, then the tips below may help you to establish and maintain the boundaries you need.
Trust Your own Feelings
Many people find themselves conforming to a kind of peer pressure in the workplace. Say, for example, your colleagues are making sexually-explicit jokes; you may feel that you have to at least smile and nod, because they’re enjoying themselves, and you don’t feel you can disturb that. Some people even find that when they complain of this kind of behavior to their supervisor, the supervisor suggests they are the one with the problem, and it’s all just good-natured fun.
So, let’s be clear: if something your colleagues are doing is making you uncomfortable, or causing you to feel like the environment at your workplace is hostile, then that’s all the evidence you need. Ignore the peer pressure, the insistence it’s just harmless banter; you have a right to feel safe, protected, and at-ease at work. If your employer doesn’t help resolve the situation, then get a harassment lawyer to examine the matter in more depth; you simply do not have to tolerate unpleasant behavior from your colleagues under any circumstances.
Look for ways to Establish Physical Boundaries
Often, physical boundaries help to reinforce personal boundaries – but the popularity of open-plan offices can hugely complicate matters in this regard.
If you find a lack of personal, physical space difficult, talk to your manager, emphasizing why the issue is impacting your ability to work as you wish. You could suggest that you be allowed to erect portable screens between you and your colleagues, or use strategically-placed pot plants to create a space that is just yours. Finally, it’s also worth seeking permission to wear headphones while you work; you can just listen to white noise, and hope that your colleagues see the headphones as a sign you are not looking to engage in conversation.
Be Straightforward if You’re not Willing to Discuss a Topic
Colleagues sometimes become friends, sometimes even best friends – but the desire for a working relationship to become a friendship has to go both ways. If your colleagues are asking for more information about your personal life than you are willing to divulge, then say so: “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about that at work.”
The idea of being so blunt may make you wince but, in most cases, honesty is the only way of dealing with intrusive questions. If you try to be more subtle, hoping that others will take the hint that you don’t wish to discuss that topic, then there’s every chance these hints will be missed or – worse yet – ignored. By being blunt, you’re establishing your boundary and making it clear that you will only provide non-work related information if you want to. If they continue to ask, speak to your manager as soon as possible.
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