How to work with boundaries.
We don’t often talk about boundaries in the way we are about to within a design context. We might talk about a boundary condition, or a boundary object, but personal and professional boundaries are not often discussed in the context of ethical design practice.
Boundaries are what help you enact your choices.
They signal to those you work with what is ok, and what is not ok. When done well, boundaries keep you and others safe.
There are a few simple things to remember when working with boundaries—how to set them, maintain them, enforce them and honour them in others.
There are different boundary types and different approaches to setting them. The most important thing to remember at this point is to know what they are. Often this is the hardest part. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been taken advantage of, or not seen, or ignored, which hurts us. But what we don’t know is that a boundary has inevitably been crossed and we didn’t even realised we had one there!
The reflective nature of this work helps you dig deep and identify what those boundaries are for you, so you can set them to keep yourself safe and operate with authenticity.
Boundary-setting is not a one-time activity. We need to revisit and reassess our boundaries to ensure they remain supportive for our work and growth.
Sometimes we realise (as I did) that some boundaries are leftovers from a lifetime ago. A regular boundary maintenance program is needed to keep up with the changing contexts of our lives and our work.
I often work with people who say they don’t like enforcing boundaries because it feels uncomfortable. You might not enforce your boundary because you don’t want to hurt the other person. The choice you’re actually making in that moment is to transfer that suffering onto yourself. And when you do that, you end up resenting the person who asked you to do what they needed, which really isn’t fair on them either. You feel bad for longer, and direct unkind emotions towards the person who is happily going about their business thinking that you’re all rainbows and unicorns. It is always better, in this kind of situation, to remind them of your boundary.
Just as you have the right to set your boundaries and communicate your needs and preferences, so do seven billion other people we share this planet with. Although many of those seven billion wouldn’t have access to opportunities that afford such discourse (yes, a bit of privilege here too). It is just as important to become great at perceiving where other people’s boundaries are so you can honour theirs.