The Power of Asserting Boundaries

In her recent book, Empowered Boundaries, author Cristien Storm discusses the idea of communicating boundaries as a way of protecting an environment or space from stepping into legally actionable situations, like discrimination and harassment.

According to Storm, boundaries are communicated with either action or inaction, and can be communicated re-actively or proactively, to protect a space. I’ll let her words provide an example:

“When we do not respond to a sexist comment, for example, the space becomes one in which sexism can expand, which in turn creates conditions where escalating sexist behaviors are more possible. However, if we can assert a clear boundary in the face of a sexist comment, we demark that space as one where sexism is not tolerated. Boundaries then, are not just individual and interpersonal but social as well.”

 

How do you manage the boundaries in your work context?

For more information on how to keep clear, consistent boundaries, ask about our Professional Boundaries course.

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How to avoid being blindsided

As a sensitivity training workshop facilitator, something I hear a lot is “I was blindsided by a colleague” or “Why didn’t they just come to me if they had an issue with me?” In this position as facilitator, I have learned a lot about the frustrations people have when their colleagues raise issues to a manager or HR rather than coming to them directly; but there are a number of reasonable reasons why this happens.

If someone has raised an issue about your behavior, ask yourself the following questions:

Does this employee report to me?

If so, this person may want to stay in good standing with you, even though they find your behavior unwelcome.

Is this employee new to the group?

If so, consider their perspective. They may not want to be perceived as coming in and shaking things up. But it doesn’t mean they should suffer in silence in an environment that they find hostile.

Has this person mentioned the issue to me before? Did I do something about it?

It is possible that a person tried to raise an issue with you before, and they feel it didn’t work for whatever reason.

Do you consider your relationship with this person to be friendly? Too friendly? Is it so friendly that you sometimes enter into inappropriate conversations in the work context (comments or jokes of a sexual nature, or that touch on legally protected characteristics)?

If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This behavior crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.

The good news is there are preventative steps you can take to avoid complaints about your behavior.

Stay away from topics that can be controversial: sexuality, gender identity, politics, religion, generational differences (millennials vs baby boomers), political correctness, etc. When such topics do come up, tune into the reactions and facial expressions of those present. Is anyone uncomfortable?

If you like to make jokes in the office, consider the content of the jokes. Do they touch on a protected class (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc) or are they of a sexual nature? If so, then going to a manager or HR is the correct step to take, because this is more than just an unwelcome comment or joke. This crosses a legal boundary and can be considered harassment.

You can learn more steps and strategies for prevention from our Professional Boundaries course.

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