How to Effectively Communicate Boundaries in the Workplace

In Brief...

Expressing expected boundaries to colleagues can be a challenge. Use the following tips to help you effectively communicate boundaries.


A person who is feeling resentment toward another because of the other person's behavior has an obligation to communicate his or her concerns to that person. However, communicating boundaries can be challenging, especially if one is working with someone who has a difficult personality.

If the other person is reactive, a friendly environment and attitude can prevent inflaming the behavior. Here are a number of tactics that can help with the communication of boundaries:

  1. Make certain your expectations are realistic.
  2. Have a positive attitude.
  3. Create a non-threatening atmosphere by meeting in a neutral area.
  4. Minimize stress by setting a dedicated time to meet so that interruption can be avoided.
  5. Avoid emotion, even if the other person gets emotional.
  6. Use 'I' statements to keep the focus on the concern and minimize defensive behavior.
  7. Use positive feedback as learned in the last lesson.
  8. Listen and negotiate terms that are acceptable to both parties.
  9. Concentrate on the problem, not the person.


Expectations are only productive if they have related consequences. Consequences take place when a boundary is upheld and when a boundary is broken. Both the expectation and the consequence should be communicated together. Consequences should be:

  1. Clear.
  2. Appropriate.
  3. Realistic.
  4. Understood by both parties.

A consequence that cannot be fulfilled is an empty threat and leads to broken promises. Here is an example of a communicated boundary:

  1. I'm struggling to get my work done on time because it depends on having up-to-date flowcharts. (Stating the problem)
  2. I'd appreciate it if you would complete them the day before I do my reports. (Stating the boundary)
  3. If the charts can't be completed, I'll need to talk to your supervisor to see if she can get you more help or arrange another way to get the work done. (Describing the negative consequence)
  4. But if all the flowcharts are done on time for the next three months, I'll bring in pizza for both our teams. (Describing the positive consequence)

Author: Sheri Schmeckpeper

Sheri Schmeckpeper holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Financial Management and Computer Information Systems as well as a Master's degree in Adult Education and Distance Learning. She is a Microsoft Certified Professional and Trainer. Sheri has implemented distance learning programs at three top institutions of higher education, has been a guest speaker on radio, and has presented at local and national training workshops. Her diverse background includes technology, education, interpersonal relations, finance, and management. Sheri has developed and facilitated courses in the areas of instructional technology and online learning, faculty development, communications, finance, and professional development and achievement. She is currently co-founder of the Institute for Instructional Excellence and directs the Center for Excellent Living where she is also a life coach.