When you’re at work, you’re at work…one of a team trying to achieve your employer’s and organization’s goals. This is your professional side.
But, things get complicated when you’re only a few feet away from your colleagues. You hear their personal and professional conversations, and they hear yours; you want to discuss something personal or they do; or maybe you’re “attracted” to another employee, which could present problems. Now it’s getting personal, and how do you handle that?
”You have to understand the boundaries between personal and professional relationships and conversations at the workplace. It’s important to allow your personality into your workplace to a certain extent. This enables you to be more fully engaged in your work while ensuring that you’re perceived as a genuine person. But the idea is to find a happy medium – a small fraction of your personal side complementing the more relevant, important dimension that’s professional,” says Karen Field Bolek, writer, editor and author.
Her book, How to Apologize to Your Woman…so that she won’t use it against you in the future — www.thebolekianperspective.com — covers gender-based communication skills in personal relationships, but many of the suggestions and techniques also apply to workplace and impersonal situations. Karen’s career experience, on-site and as a consultant, has provided many insights on the challenges of drawing boundaries at the workplace.
“If a colleague starts a personal conversation about something not related to work and it seems to be going on for too long, simply say, ‘I need to get some work done now. Let’s discuss this at break, or lunch or after work.’ Never have personal discussions through email or social media. They’re not as private as you might think.”
Your employer may have given employees the company’s professional code of conduct as well as work and other information that it considers personal or inappropriate in a workplace. Yes, of course, you will meet co-workers who become personal friends. However, while at work, treat each other as colleagues.
“Besides your employer’s standards, you will learn more about your own boundaries (personal and professional), what’s driving you, and whether your expectations are realistic.”
Personal/professional boundaries include sexual harassment from a boss or colleague. “Be respectful,” Karen advises, “but decline inappropriate suggestions. “
Then, as you explore and consider how others see you and how you see yourself, you will better appreciate feedback from team players and your boss. Even when it’s not what you imagined or when it’s negative, their opinions and observations can be very constructive and thought-provoking.
“As we progress through the different stages of our lives,” Karen adds, “we encounter ‘critical points of growth.’ These are challenges that must be faced squarely and worked through in order to succeed according to your own definition of success. Unless your job is performed in isolation, learning to converse with others appropriately and to draw boundaries where needed comprises critical points of growth for your career. If you realize you have a problem in this area, take the opportunity to re-open your mind and re-align with your purpose.”
“Moreover, each workplace has a unique culture and specific personalities and expectations. Thus, if your conversational challenge is affecting your job performance, then I suggest you initiate a dialog with your manager or a mentor about how best to grow through your particular situation.”
You’re always learning more about the professional you and personal you as you create positive workplace relationships that can lead to new and rewarding possibilities.