Some people prefer keeping friendships and work relationships separate, while others are comfortable getting more chummy with co-workers. The latter can get uncomfortable when a co-worker starts trespassing into personal territory. Establish with your co-workers how you expect to be treated by knowing and modeling your boundaries, being direct about your needs and confronting co-workers when necessary.
Know Your Boundaries
Figuring out what makes you comfortable is the first step toward establishing healthy boundaries, writes Margarita Tartakovsky, an associate editor of Psych Central, in her article "7 Tips for Setting Boundaries At Work." It may be that you are comfortable with some behaviors, but not others. Develop a clear idea about your limits and boundaries. Is it OK to go to the company cafe together during lunch break but not out to dinner? Do you prefer that she not email you at all for non-work-related questions? You may feel some topics are fine to talk about, while others are not.
If your co-worker is overstepping your personal boundaries, confront him directly. Simply saying you would like to "keep things professional" might not be clear enough, as different people have different standards of professionalism. Talk about your expectations in no uncertain terms by stating the exact behaviors that are troubling you. For example you might say, "I appreciate your enthusiasm about our recent project, but please do not call me outside of work hours," or "I prefer to keep my personal life to myself at work, so please keep the conversation work-related."
Having clearly set your boundaries, you must be equally clear about defending them when they are crossed. If your co-worker is a chronic offender, she may try to call your bluff or test you to see if you were serious. If she texts you after you have told her not to, tell her right away that this is not OK with you. If she surprises you with tickets to a sports event after you've told her that you are not interested in hanging out, you might say, "We've talked about this. I'm not interested in hanging out outside of work." Mentally prepare yourself for how you will respond to any boundary violations so you are not caught off guard.
Bring it to Higher Powers
If your co-worker continues to violate boundaries, he or she may be approaching harassment. Take your concern to higher authorities, such as a supervisor, manager or even Human Resources. Your superior will want to know that you have tried to remedy the situation by setting verbal boundaries and confronting any violations when they happened. She should then address this issue with the offending co-worker in a timely manner.
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- Forbes: How to Approach the Boss When Conflict Arises at Work
- Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life by Jan Black
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