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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Nov 16, 2018

Episode 37 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores why establishing boundaries with colleagues is important and essential within working environments. 


In the last episode we explored setting boundaries with learners. I explained:

I like to think of boundaries as positive limits. They aren’t huge walls with barbed wire on the top. They are a protective measures. Boundaries can relate relationships, physical elements and emotions.

I found two great articles on this topic to help me prepare for this episode. You can find links to them in the show notes.

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Having boundaries in place allows you to:

  • Navigate complex colleague relationships. 
  • Protect yourself, specifically your role and responsibilities. 
  • Preserve your mental health and emotional energy.
  • Uphold your own standards and values.
  • Be productive. 

Examples of Personal Workplace Boundaries

Some examples include:

  • Job description: what you are required to do.
  • Interpersonal: how you behave with others.
  • Personal: your work/life balance.

Why This Topic? 

This is a huge topic. It is impossible to cover all aspects of setting boundaries with colleagues in a short episode.

The purpose of this episode is simply to make you think. If you pick one thing from the episode to act on, then that is fantastic!

How to Set Boundaries With Colleagues

Here are suggestions for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries at work:

  • Decide on your boundaries (think about those which relate to your job role and responsibilities, your relationships with colleagues, your general behaviour and your work/life balance).
  • Document those boundaries in your journal and revisit them often.
  • Practice explaining your boundaries to people in a firm but positive way.
  • Know that colleagues at all levels will cross your boundaries at some point. 
  • Use the win-win approach (this also works well as a behaviour management strategy with learners). Example: if a colleague asks “do you have a minute to talk about something?” and you are in a state of flow with marking, offer a response that offers two wins. “I’d love to talk to you. I can speak to you at 10am when I am on my break or at 4pm when I have finished teaching. What would you prefer?”
  • List people who drain your energy and don’t respect your boundaries. Where possible, have as little to do with them as you can. 
  • When boundaries are crossed, try to avoid a personal or emotional response. For example, if your manager makes an unreasonable request, rather than breaking down and saying “I am so stressed - I can’t cope with this on top of the million other things I have to do today”, explain “If I do this now then X will not get completed - what is your preference?”
  • Learn to say no - future episode.

My Experience

  • Physical boundaries: I am easily distracted by noise and find it hard to get into a state of flow, so by using noise cancelling headphones I send a message to my colleagues I should only be interrupted if it is urgent. I have explained this to them before, and have not just assumed they will understand!
  • Personal boundaries: To maintain work/life balance I do not check my emails at the weekend and do not have my emails on my personal mobile device. My colleagues know this. My office hours are also clearly communicated on my email auto-signature and out of office message.
  • Professional boundaries: I have a specific social media presence related to teaching theteachingspace on Instagram and martineguernsey on Twitter). Both are professional, I keep my personal life, religious and political views to myself. My Facebook profile is locked down, although I am friends with some colleagues. I am careful what I post.

Wrap Up

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