What do the following have in common?
The CFO of a manufacturing company is frustrated that he always has to work late, putting significant strain on his marriage and family life.
An employee is ready to scream at her coworkers, who keep talking about the upcoming election and how virtuous their preferred candidate is while repeatedly speaking disparagingly about the other candidates and those who prefer them.
The new worker who is warned by his union brothers and sisters to fall in line, stop working so hard, and do less because it is making them look bad.
If you go beyond the circumstances, you will see the common thread of an employee being placed in an external workplace environment that runs contrary to their internal system of values and beliefs.
In other words, their workplace is expecting them to behave in a way that runs contrary to their sense of "self".
This is by far the single greatest root source of dysfunction that exists within professional relationships today.
What Is Our "Sense Of Self"?
We all have within us our own, unique, individual sense of self.
It consist of the mishmash of values, beliefs, experiences, and perceptions that we develop and adopt as we progress through our life.
We then unconsciously take these values, beliefs, experiences, and perceptions, blend them together like a giant smoothie, and internalize them.
This is why no two people are exactly alike in their views of the world.
If two people share similar beliefs, values, experiences, and perceptions, they can still have very different senses of self because, like any smoothie, it is not just the ingredients that are important but how much of each ingredient that goes in.
Suppose two individuals share a deep sense of social responsibility. However, one of those two is a parent who would throw all sense of social responsibility away to ensure the safety of their child. However, the other person has no children and would adhere to their sense of social responsibility come hell or high water.
he sense of self that these two individuals have may be extremely different.
It is our unique sense of self that drives the majority of our behaviour in one of two ways. Our behaviour is either an unconscious attempt to:
- Act in alignment with our sense of self.
- Avoid acting contrary to our sense of self.
And when neither of these are possible (such as when you are ordered by your boss to do something that is against you sense of self but not illegal so you are still required to comply), your body tells you something is very wrong.
We have all felt nauseous, had our stomachs knot up, or had the unconscious urge to RUN!
This is what makes the establishment of boundaries in our professional life such a critical tool in the maintenance of our mental and emotional health.
Professional mastery is impossible without clear, sturdy boundaries in place.
The Fluid Nature Of Boundaries
When we apply them to our life, our boundaries represent the line in the sand separating what we consider acceptable from unacceptable.
Acceptable and unacceptable is based on our own unique sense of self.
When we have a clear sense of our boundaries, and the courage to stand by them even when difficult, we experience far less internal conflict, are more confident and decisive, and tend to develop a much more positive self image.
Those who go through life without clear boundaries tend to be very uncertain of themselves, have difficulty making decisions, and are far more likely to develop low self-esteem and a negative self image.
However, creating our boundaries isn't as easy as you may think.
Some think of the boundaries in our life as walls, but this comparison does more harm than good.
Walls are static, immovable constructs that, when no longer needed, should be torn down but rarely are. The wall then becomes an obstacle to progress rather than an instrument of it.
Tenet #3 of the Cooperative Action Model™ starts off: "All relationships are based on constant negotiation of boundaries"...
That's right...the "constant negotiation of boundaries".
This means that the boundaries we create in our life to guide us are fluid, movable, and ever-changing based on a number of factors such as:
- How our sense of self evolves as we continue to add ingredients into our smoothie such as new experiences, new external conditions and stimuli, and new relationships.
- Changes in the external environment that we live in.
- The subjective, individualistic nature of each relationship.
Consider this example of the fluid nature of our boundaries:
You have been raised to believe stealing was bad. You hit some hard times and are really really hungry but even as you walk by an outdoor market with a table of delicious apples inches from you, you tell yourself you will never steal, no matter how hungry you may feel. Stealing would be stepping over a boundary you have created for yourself.
Now consider the same situation, only you are a parent. You are very hungry and so is your young child. You walk by the outdoor market and snatch a couple of big juicy apples for your child to eat. you don't feel you crossed any boundaries even though you stole because, as a parent, your sense of self renegotiated the boundary such that any act to ensure the safety and well-being of your child was acceptable.
In life, and in the workplace, our boundaries are constantly changing as our workplace conditions change. It is important to not treat boundaries as static, immovable objects lest the very things that were meant to help you now begin to harm you.
3 Tips For Negotiating Positive Fluid Boundaries
A great deal of attention is placed in our Law of Cooperative Action™ Professional Mastery Program on identifying and communicating boundaries, so if this is something you to become more effective at, jump in with 2 feet and buy the program. However, if you are good just having a small taste, here are 3 tips for negotiating boundaries in the workplace.
- Take some time for quiet, honest self-examination and reflection. Your boundaries must be based on your true sense of self and not your ego. Until your boundaries are founded in this sense of self, you will be making paper walls.
- Boundaries are as much about how others behave towards you as how you behave towards them. Use respectful, honest, direct communication to help others understand what your boundaries are. You can't get angry at someone for crossing your line if they don't even know there is a line to cross.
- Staying in any professional environment where others constantly ignore your boundaries, or expect you to ignore your own boundaries, is your decision. Own your decision but don't get mad at the others. You can't control behaviour. You CAN control yours.
Boundaries Allow Us To Progress Through Life
Boundaries based on our sense of self are not limiting.
Rather, they provide a set of guidelines that help us to move forward through life in a way that is fulfilling, happy, and rewarding.
This is why it is so important to establish boundaries using open, honest communication with others.
When others respect our boundaries, they respect our sense of self and we are able to proceed with that relationship in a positive, healthy way.