November 26, 2022

Small Business Advice

Setting Boundaries

Jerry Osteryoung | 5/12/2008

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.
— Michael J. Fox

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of entrepreneurs in Jacksonville. As we were brainstorming a topic, the coordinator of the talk asked me, “What do entrepreneurs need the most help with but just do not seem to talk about?” At first, the question took me back as I had not really thought of an issue like this; however, after reflecting on the many, many conversations I have had with entrepreneurs over the years, it came to me! Many entrepreneurs struggle with setting boundaries in the workplace.

Setting boundaries in the workplace governs employee behavior, drawing a very clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. I believe that many entrepreneurs have difficulty setting boundaries because we all want to be liked. Additionally, many just do not like or want to deal with the thought of hurting others. However, by establishing clear boundaries it then becomes less of a personal issue but more of a rule or policy.

One of the more common boundary issues involves language in the workplace. Whether by a man or a woman, swearing and raising voices just cannot be tolerated in any communications. If staff members cross that boundary and begin to swear or raise their voices, you just have to say that this type of language is unacceptable, and that the conversation will be over the next time they swear or raise their voice.

Another issue critical to setting boundaries is learning that it is okay to say “no.” For many reasons, entrepreneurs have a tough time saying “no” as they feel guilty for it. In the workplace, however, saying “no” is essential. The word “no” is a very strong boundary that says that you just cannot cross this line. If you say no, you are not saying no to the person but just no to their action or proposed action.

One of the most important workplace boundaries involves bad behavior. This boundary should be clearly established and consistently monitored because bad behavior should never be tolerated. This involves more than just passively choosing not to reward bad behavior. For instance, if a worker shows up late (clearly unacceptable behavior by most workplace standards), and you let it continue without consequence, it will break down boundaries that are frequently very hard to rebuild.

Boundary challenging situations involve a balancing act of power. You control the situation simply by not taking things personally and not reacting to other people. Once you lose your cool, all sense of boundaries is out the window, and your power is lost.

Boundaries are critical to each and every business as they clearly identify what is good and what is bad behavior. The key is that, in order to run an organization, it is essential that you have boundaries both to protect you as well as your organization.

Now go out and start thinking about what boundaries you have or need to have in your organization. Once you identify them, it is fairly easy to ascertain what acceptable workplace behavior is and what is not.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at jostery@comcast.net or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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