Connecting with Boundaries Intact: The Disciplined Behavior of High Quality Professionalism

Why is professionalism important?

The ability to maintain a professional persona is skill that great managers, supervisors, and other leaders exercise. Not only does keeping a balance between work expectations and outside-work life keep us feeling balanced, it also manifests a consistency in the workplace behavioral expectations.

Good relationships ? Good results.

According to Sarri Gilman’s TED Talk on personal boundaries, people who are overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed have trouble making the right decisions for themselves because their judgment is blurred. On the other hand, people who trust themselves, are decisive, and are committed to healthy relationships succeed in both their work and personal life.

Sarri acknowledges that challenges naturally come our way in life, and she suggests that high levels of stress cause need for high amounts of self-care. It can be tempting to neglect the self, and ironically stressful to set personal boundaries; but when you consider the benefits of knowing yourself and knowing the values behind the decisions you make, it makes the little periods of transition simply feel like natural results of working hard. Sarri, in fact, calls the process of communicating boundaries merely “sweating”. Sarri elaborates that she, herself, “sweats” regularly working with others.

Moral of the story: Effective professionalism takes hard work at first, and diligence to maintain, but reaps great rewards in creating positive, productive professional and personal relationships.

*Tips and Tools for strengthening boundaries, as presented by Sarri Gilman, are as follows:

  1. The most essential boundary tool that everyone has – the personal compass.
    1. Visual a compass in your hand with two words on it – yes and no.
    2. Use the compass to decide where your boundaries are, what you say yes and no to, particularly where you need it the most.
    3. Sometimes your compass is clouded over, and you can’t see if something is a yes or a no for you. This is happens if you’ve been ignoring your compass or arguing with it because you don’t like what it’s saying.
    4. Although our compass does not give us the details, you can trust it, because its only purpose is to take care of you. And if you let the compass and boundaries take care of you, it’ll mitigate stress, and stress is a very serious issue.
      1. According to the American Psychological Association, 50-58% of us are suffering from high stress. Big number.
      2. Boundary skills reduce the stress so you can see your compass.
  2. Problem: Setting boundaries is stressful, ironically. But it’s brief stress,or “sweating”.
  3. Remember, the key for recognizing boundaries where you need them the most is “tolerating stormy emotions”. Communicating your boundaries or making decisions based on them can have negative effects on people, especially when emotions are involved.
  4. When functioning under a lot of stress, the key is to ask yourself: Are there ways that you can improve your self-care? The more stress you have, the more you need to do self-care.
  5. We’re all in the middle of a life story, and your story is based on what you’re saying yes and no to. If you shut out the noise and listen, you’re going to find yourself going through life with less stress and profoundly in-tune with your purpose.

Link to TED Talk:

Controlling Personal Bias: Maintaining the Neutral Role

In the role of social worker, or more specifically of sensitivity training facilitator, it is expected that you bring to the table an unbiased and objective outsider perspective, accompanied with professionally guided progressive discussions and exercises aimed at creating and improving sensitivity within work cultures. The duties of such a role require that a person set aside their own personal values and focus on the values and tendencies of others; however this goes against our natural human instincts to give in to our bias and make judgments that discriminate against other groups of people. Discrimination, after all, is a natural human behavior – in fact it is this very tool which has allowed humans to survive for centuries. The ability to discriminate, for example, allows many many species of beings to recognize and recall the difference between plants and animals that are dangerous and those that are safe for eating.

This tool is also used by humans to discriminate between people based on real and sometimes superficial experiences they have had, and this is where you can see the power of preconceived ideas and expectations taking a toll.


As previously explained, we are hard-wired as humans to recognize differences between things that are important to us. When in the role of social worker or sensitivity training facilitator, one must

*actively remember to consider our own biases*

when provided the opportunity to help others work toward improving their own workplace cultures. More generally, one must

*relax*, *loosen the inhibitions*, and *reflect on the expectations*

at their workplace and what it means to be a good teammate. This ability to shut-off our own biases for any given amount of time is a healthy and strength-building exercise from which all people in all walks of life can benefit.

Balancing Empathy with Personal Position Neutrality

Well I’ve been facilitating, learning, and progressing with Breakview Sensitivity Training now for just over two months, and one thing that has been developing in my skill set is the ability to display an effective level of empathy with my clients’ feelings while also managing to keep the lesson productive. Given the importance of one’s neutrality in the role of facilitator, there are multiple skills related to this topic that I am focusing on improving in order to make each course a success. This post outlines my most recent developmental focus points. The ideas and tips mentioned below come, for the most part, from my trainer and mentor, Charles Gordon.

One of the biggest reasons why this set of skills requires strong understanding and experience is because it is natural for us as humans to convey empathy and console others when they talk about their stressors and frustrations. It is natural to try and help others solve their personal issues. In order to avoid these instincts during a training and keep a safe culture for all, it is important to keep a few tips in your back pocket in the likely event that your client decides to share their personal story with you. The tips can be found below, however first I present two steps to take when listening to a client’s personal issue — all provided to me by Charles.

Steps for Handling a Client’s Personal Perspective

“First, acknowledge the positive stuff or the validity of their concern or narrative. Finding some kernel of truth (positive) or acknowledging their concern makes it easier to redirect or help them to have a serious look at their own blind spot or faulty storyline.

Second, use questions to redirect or present the big idea of the lesson as a tool to adjust their narrative in a way that leads to a constructive conclusion or way forward.” (Charles)

Using these steps helps facilitators learn how to listen and redirect discourse into a progressive direction. Before these steps are even necessary, however, one can practice some new systems of logic in preparation for future instances by remembering three tips: (1) understanding your natural limits is important, (2) getting involved in clients’ specific issues is not helpful, and (3) social time (lunch, breaks, etc.) is a time for examplar behavior.

(1) Always consider your limitations. In a five- to seven-hour session, a client can only take-in so much. A facilitator should exercise professional judgement and guide the course through a healthy, relevant set of lessons and remember that learning and compliance take time.

(2) Do not directly help clients solve their personal unique issues by offering your own opinions or intuitions. As Charles has said, “Sometimes we see a path (thought process or narrative structure) that makes sense and we try to sell our way of shifting the elements of their story. Don’t.” Otherwise we make judgements based on one perspective while also inserting ourselves into the story.

(3) Use your casual time with the clients (lunch, breaks, etc.) as a place for exemplary behavior in your role of facilitator. Respect the boundaries and the expectations that come with your role and stay true to the models we preach in our lessons.

The Big Idea

The big idea here is that facilitators must understand how to maintain an environment where sensitivity training clients feel comfortable receiving professional feedback and concentrating on their plan of improvement in the workplace. As stated previously, a facilitator should never make judgments based on the client’s one perspective of the story; in fact we should keep a neutral stance by “maintaining a questioning posture” and holding the the mindset of “I need to make it safe for clients to challenge their own presuppositions and mythical beliefs” (Charles). New information and action plans can take time to latch on, however a successful course can guide clients closer to the information they need most. By keeping these ideas in mind and ready for use in a session, one can stay professionally neutral while at the same time showing empathy for the client and their personal issues.