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In the book BOUNDARIES, by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend they draw a very helpful parallel between real physical boundary lines (like property lines) and the intangible boundary lines of our lives. It's one of those illustrations that have stuck with me. If you've participated in anything I've facilitated or been my coaching client, chances are I have made reference to it in one way or another. I have even embellished and expanded on the analogy at times to suit my purposes, and deepen the learning. Here is how it goes: Think of yourself as a house. Like the picture below, you have: 1. A front door 2. A front porch 3. A front yard 4. A little picket fence 5. A front gate 6. A sidewalk running in front

Now, think of the different types of relationships you have and where you allow certain people on your “property”. Is the inside of your house reserved for people who you know (or want to know) on an intimate level? Perhaps your family and closest friends? If so, these are the people that know what the particular smell of your house is, and whether you like shoes on or off and what your robe looks like, etc. The sidewalk might be reserved for people you want to keep at a friendly distance (perhaps co-workers) - these are the people you want to maintain a formal relationship with. It's fine if they know what color your house is, and what trees you have in the front yard, but they don't need to know what kind of shampoo you use. Can you see where I am going with this? You might be a person who has the gate and front door wide open…to ANYONE, ALL the time. And that's fine (as long as you are single, or your spouse &/or kids like it that way too!). But, just because you like it that way, don't make the mistake of assuming everyone feels the same.

The way this analogy can be useful inside an organization is by understanding the type of organization you are in, or the type you are trying to create. I can't emphasize strongly enough that there is no “right way” of being as an organization (assuming you are compliant with human resources best practices and regulations) - it's simply about having clarity and agreement, and the shared language about boundaries. If I am a very private person (someone who keeps 97% of the world on the outside of my fence) and I join an organization of porch sitters, it is likely to be a rub. An organization of porch sitters are a group of people who feel comfortable enough to allow people from work up onto their porch (where they can peer through their windows). The upside to this can be strong bonds, vulnerability and genuine connection. The appeal of this makes sense for a lot of people. We are living during an era where church attendance, community clubs, and adult baseball leagues 😊 ⚾ are less of the norm, so people may look to work to give them more than just a paycheck. But what about the person who feels uncomfortable with this, or simply isn't looking to work to fill a social need? Here are a few potential reasons someone might not want to be a part of the porch-sitters club: 1. I tried being vulnerable in the past and I found I was too much for others, so now I keep my head down and do my work. 2. I am simply a private or introverted person who prefers to keep my work life separate from my private life. 3. I have a full and fulfilling life outside of work, and I see work as simply a place to contribute in my area of expertise and make a living. 4. Fill in the blanks.

What about a whole organization of sidewalk visitors? Isn't is hard to build trust if there is no vulnerability? Well, yes and no. There are different types of trust:

  1. Transactional trust - I can trust you to follow through on a work related assignment or action based on your track record of doing so in the past.

  2. Vulnerability-based trust - I can trust you to forgive me if I make a mistake because you have proven to me over time that it is safe to be a full-spectrum human in your presence.

(*credit to Patrick Lencioni for first making me aware of different kinds of trust)

If you are in a highly formal work setting where the leader or organization models and expects everyone to stay off each others (proverbial) lawn, then transactional trust is probably the kind that will be formed and accepted. If you are a porch sitter that finds themselves in an organization of sidewalk visitors, you will either want to look for new work, or establish strong connections outside of work. But, if you are in a porch sitter environment and that suits you, you will likely have a drink, pull out your banjo and cigars and start to tell stories…and that has the potential to build vulnerability based trust (&/or get you in HR hot water, so tread lightly with those stories)…

But, I digress - this isn't the TRUST post (that one will come later).

Back to boundaries…I am what people might refer to as an “open-book” - There are many reasons for this, that I won't bore you with here. But, essentially the world has given me no good reason to hide inside my house with the blinds drawn and keep the world at bay. I am naturally introverted (insomuch as I gain my energy through silence and solitude), but I am also naturally very curious about people. I want to get up on your porch (so to speak 🥴), and the easiest way to get there is to invite you onto mine. So, I will pretty much tell you anything you want to know and I might get nosey and ask you a lot of questions (if I read that you are open to that - I have a pretty strong spidey sense for personal boundaries), but I am neither a hard and fast porch sitter or sidewalk visitor. I like to adjust to the environment I find myself in. And, I am lucky enough to work in a CONTEXT that gives me a ton of permission to be nosey and create open dialogue, and pull back when the situation calls for it. When I get hired to come work on people problems or opportunities at your office, no one is surprised if I ask you to take a personality test and then dissect it together. But, this is a very unique setting. If your boss or coworker started asking you questions that feel personal or vulnerable it might not work, and your walls (boundaries) might go up. So, if you are a leader that wants to have a valuable conversation about boundaries and the type of culture you are wanting to build (sidewalk visitors, porch-sitters, or something in between) it would really help to set aside some time and define and communicate the CONTEXT. Remember, clear is kind! If you aren't sure how to approach this, have me come help. In the meantime, Nedra Glover Tawwab gives excellent and actionable advice to start setting boundaries at work right now (see her video at the end).

PROACTIVE LEADER TIP! You should initiated a conversation about professional boundaries during the interview or onboarding process! This could include you communicating your work/life boundaries and inviting the candidate or new employee to communicate theirs. Just imagine how surprised your employees will be, and how lucky they will feel to be on a team that values clear communication and strong work/life balance. Here are some of the boundaries I have no problem communicating to my clients (when it comes up):

  1. I never stay on-site with the client during a team offsite. As in, not even at the same hotel. I want to give my best to the work I've been hired for, and not burn myself out with too much off hours engagement.

  2. I RARELY say yes to joining you in an after-work drink or social event

  3. I don't respond to text messages sent to my phone after 5pm (unless we are actively engaged in a 2-3 day offsite), and encourage clients to email me instead.

  4. I don't follow my clients personal accounts on social media. I love to see what you are up to on LinkedIn or on your business socials.

These aren't “best practices” - they are just my personal boundaries based on who I am, and how I am trying to live my intentional life. You may love to connect all over the internet and after hours with your team and clients. That's great! The main point is knowing your boundaries and not being afraid to use them, and respecting the boundaries of others.

Just for you…


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