SET YOURSELF
BOUNDARIES
There are personal boundaries you should
never cross
Your everyday behaviour is guided by the boundaries
you have in your mind.
To keep on the right side of organisation acceptability and avoid
transgression you need to be clear about your own personal
boundaries of performance, conduct and attitude. Without clear
boundaries you will wander all over the place and be classified as
a deviant.
Let’s take performance for example. You need to have a clear
boundary in your mind that differentiates unacceptable from
acceptable performance on your part (see diagram).
You could set the same personal boundaries for acceptable/unac-
ceptable conduct and attitudes. It requires personal discipline to
ensure you do not err on the wrong side of all these boundaries.
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pe r fo r ma n ce b oun dar y
UNACCEPTABLE
INTOLERABLE
PROBLEM
TO BE ADDRESSED
WRONG SIDE
ACCEPTABLE
TOLERABLE
NO PROBLEM
RIGHT SIDE
Many decades ago, in my first job ever, there was an older Cock-
ney woman working alongside me in the laboratory. She was
very friendly but always teasing me. To get my own back I once
crept up on her and tapped her on the bottom. She turned
quickly and with a disapproving smile said, Don’t ever do that
again!’ It was a valuable lesson. I had crossed a boundary on to
the wrong side.
It is no good relying on your boss to set the boundary of per-
formance. You have to work it out for yourself. You will need a
similar line in your mind relating to conduct and attitude. This
will be based on your own personal ethic and will determine
(for example):
G
whether or not you swear, as many do;
G
whether or not you are always on time or are late, as many are;
G
whether or not you talk behind people’s backs, as many do;
G
whether or not you accept low-quality work, as manydo;
G
whether or not you tolerate humour based on prejudice (e.g.
making fun of a minority group).
People who are fuzzy about their boundaries (of performance,
conduct and attitude) or have none in their mind readily lose
respect and are difficult to deal with. Few people will know
where they stand with them. The personal boundaries you set
create that understanding. They give you strength and enhance
the respect others will have for you. They will not mess with
you because they know you will not tolerate let alone display
such transgression. Equally you will not ‘mess’ with them when
you know their boundaries.
In one transport company I worked for (as a consultant) it
seemed that every other front-liner used the f word in every
other sentence. The easier decision would have been to cross the
boundary into obscenity and use the word myself (and thus
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Set Yourself Boundaries
become ‘one of the boys’). The more difficult decision was
whether or not to confront such behaviour and try to eradicate
it. I didn’t. I tolerated it.
Other examples relate to ‘whistle blowing’ and reporting col-
leagues who go beyond the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
Ultimately the line between acceptable/unacceptable perform-
ance, conduct and attitude is one that only you can provide. It is
up to you to generate these boundaries and then never cross them.
Similarly, whilst keeping to your own boundaries it is essential
to determine and respect the boundaries set by others.
PRA C T I CA L TI P
G
Review your boundaries of performance, conduct and
attitude when it comes to work. If you struggle with this
then you need to retreat for a few days and go through a
process of re-establishing these boundary lines.
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