​Working with Friends: How to Set Boundaries

When co-workers get along well with one another, a more harmonious and productive work environment is often the result. More than that, people who are friends at work provide each other vital support and advice, making the daily grind easier to bear.

But no matter how close you are with your work friends, you have to remember that you are professional colleagues first and foremost, and friends second. As such, boundaries need to be set to keep it that way, so that work is not interrupted during designated work hours. Most of all, boundaries help you avoid the repercussions from conflicts inherent in work relationships that cross the line.

Setting boundaries for workplace relationships can be difficult, but they are a necessity. Getting overly friendly with a co-worker can be distracting at best, and emotionally draining at worst. Think about it: a little distance can prevent you from getting embroiled in office politics or gossip, which can be damaging to your reputation. Of course, you can remain friends with your co-workers, but with boundaries, you reduce the chances of finding yourself in problematic office situations. Here’s how to do it:

Remember that setting boundaries is your right

The ability to set boundaries generally comes from a healthy feeling of self-worth—as a person who values himself or herself, understand that you have a right to your personal space and keep some people at arm’s length. The problem is that most people don’t understand this right and what it entails. Simply put, boundaries mean that you have a right to what actually belongs to you, which include your decisions, thoughts, words and actions, among other things. While your boundaries may prevent others from getting what they want from you, you earn their respect in the long run, but most of all, you’ll respect yourself for standing up to your needs.

Acknowledge your feelings

You know there’s something wrong when you start feeling anxious or uncomfortable during what’s supposed to be normal co-worker interactions. If you notice these instances happening frequently, ask yourself what’s causing those negative feelings: Is it the way you’re being approached? Are the words inappropriate? Or is it just a nagging feeling that you can’t put the finger on? Make a note of which co-workers make you feel that way. Why is it that you feel guarded and uneasy around these people but relaxed and accommodating around others?

Decide on a course of action

After recognizing the behavior, the next step is to think of how you can distance yourself from it. You can try avoiding any contact with that person for a while. Try finding another place to eat or take a break. If that doesn’t work, confront them to let them know that their behavior will no longer be tolerated. In extreme cases, remember that you can always sever the relationship. People who drain you emotionally are just not that deserving of your time.

Plan ahead

When you confront someone, there’s always the possibility that they won’t respond well to your decision. Practice the words that you’re going to say. Record or write it down, and rehearse with a friend if you must. Be direct, but be respectful as well. Use tone and language that you are comfortable with.

Offer alternative solutions

You need to make your co-worker understand that you are simply saying no to certain behaviors, and not the person as a whole. Tell them in a calm, assuring tone that you just want to keep things professional, and while you must distance yourself from them at work, you can still be available for them otherwise. Offer to have coffee after work or call them at home in the evening. Have a night out together over the weekend. Take control of the conversation and strive for a win-win. If they respond positively to your concerns, work with them to develop solutions that help you move forward.

Be realistic about your relationship

While you can always hope for the best, you must also expect the worst. Think of the most negative outcome that could happen, such as falling out or getting badmouthed in front of your boss and associates. Regardless of how close you may feel, never divulge information that can be used against you in case the relationship ends badly. Nurture your career and reputation, as well as your relationship with the rest of your colleagues. Be cautious in your interactions and conversations, always keeping in mind that the friendship may not work out.

Be firm in your decision

Boundaries are non-negotiable. Once you’ve set them, there can be no turning back. Stand behind your decision, and make an effort to steer clear of old habits. When future interactions start to escalate, take a step back. Calm yourself and think about your mental and emotional wellbeing. Maintain your professionalism at all times. If you feel iffy about acting a certain way with your work friend, then it’s probably not a good idea to act that way.

Check other areas of your life that needs boundaries

Work can affect personal life and vice versa. See if there are other relationships in your life that require boundaries. Just like your colleagues, family and loved ones can be a positive influence or a drain to your time, energy, and vitality. By learning to set necessary boundaries in all aspects of your life, you get closer to living a happier and healthier life.

Boundaries don’t have to be destructive. In fact, when done right, they can actually help make your relationships stronger. Colleagues, co-workers, and friends that demand more than you can offer can leave you feeling stressed and frustrated. There’s a limit to how much you can give, and you have to abide by these limits. Learn to establish your priorities and set boundaries, because it’s for your own good.

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