Look at any source of advice on relationships and you’ll see reference to standards and boundaries. Like romantic relationships, our expectations of others at work can help or hinder our progress to achieving harmony. We don’t always need to get on, we don’t always need to agree, but it sure as hell helps if we can understand what’s going on.
And being clear on the difference between our standards and boundaries, can only help.
Personally, I like to be early. No, let me be more precise. I HATE to be late. It is a standard that is important to me. If I’m supposed to be somewhere, I’ll try and make sure I’m there in advance and I can arrive at a time that I consider fashionably early.
That’s my standard. It’s something that is important to me, for me. But what’s my boundary?
I appreciate that people get held up, that things crop up and that external factors can impact on the plans of others. However, there are things that I won’t tolerate:
- If you’re late to a meeting it is your responsibility to catch up, not everyone else’s to wait for you
- If you’re repeatedly late and it becomes a norm
- If you don’t acknowledge your lateness and offer apologies to others
So when a colleague turns up to the meeting at 9.59, bustles in to the room with a pile of papers spewing out of their hands and a coffee stain down their shirt, what criteria am I judging them by? My standards, or my boundaries?
Let’s look at something more emotive. Honesty and openness.
I believe in being open and honest. I try my best to express myself as openly and honestly as I can – recognising that I’m not a model of perfection. That’s the standard I hold myself to – to be honest. My boundaries are that I won’t accept being lied to and I reject the withholding of information for the sake of organisational politics, but I accept that I cannot know every detail of every situation.
What happens when I hear about a situation that has occurred in work that I have an opinion on, but haven’t been able to contribute to. It might also be one that personally impacts my work.
Do I hold judgment based on my personal standard, or assess against my boundaries? I know and recognise that I cannot be informed about everything, but surely this piece?
Understanding the difference between our personal standards, the things that we hold dear to ourselves, and the boundaries, the red lines that we cannot accept others to cross is critical to our ability to successfully navigate around our organisations and make things happen.
It is only natural to confuse the two at times, but understanding what we’re doing can only aid us in our contribution in both our personal and professional lives.