Our current lifestyles include spending more time at office than at home. The office is almost a second home to most of us since we spend at least 8 to 9 hours working closely with our colleagues. Work is not just about projects, numbers and negotiations; it is also about relationships with your co-workers. Relationships that are not just professional but can also get intensely personal. In such a scenario, maintaining healthy boundaries with your co-workers plays a big part in a successful professional life and a healthy organization. It is a fine balancing act to be friendly and approachable and at the same time not to overstep boundaries. When colleagues become friends it is a completely different ball game, one that needs to be played with sensitivity and finesse.
In order to create healthy boundaries with your co-workers, you could arm yourself with some of the tips that we have put together.
Maintain a professional code of conduct
Being friendly and approachable does not mean that you compromise on your professional decorum. Convey the message that your primary responsibility is to your job first. Try not to get distracted by office gossip or other topics of discussion that don't have anything to do with the work on hand. If your colleague brings up office gossip or personal issues during work hours, gently steer the conversation back to work. If that person wants to vent or share something personal with you, let him or her know that you are available during lunch hour or after work hours to listen.
How much is too much?
It is important for you to differentiate between co-workers and confidantes. If you have co-workers as friends in your Facebook or Twitter accounts, then limit the personal information that you post on your walls or set appropriate filters. Though you may be socializing with your co-workers outside of office hours, be discreet about the intimate details of your personal life. Details of failed relationships, romantic alliances, office romances and medical history are best kept out of the loop. Sharing too much can have a negative impact in a professional set-up. So take care not to reveal too much by guarding your privacy.
Choose your friends carefully
Though it is important to maintain a formal professional relationship, it is very likely that you may bond better with some of your co-workers. You might be tempted to confide about your personal issues. Be careful about who you choose to trust with your secrets. Sometimes what you reveal could be used against you later by those who do not have your best interests at heart. You might be betrayed by your co-workers for their own personal gain. For instance, if you are going through a nasty divorce, it may not be a great idea to share the sordid details with your friend at work. It might affect your image of stability or impeccable judgment and may impact your chances of promotion if word gets out about your unstable personal life. So don't share your story with the wrong person. Choose your confidante at work with some thought before exposing your vulnerabilities.
Maintain clear boundaries
The flip side of being approachable is that people may take advantage of you. Be clear that though you will hear them out if the issues are professional, draw a line when personal problems come up during working hours. Stay away from the personal affairs of your co-workers. Often the long hours spent together might lead to personal equations between colleagues and sometimes these relationships might take on a romantic or sexual hue that may cause you some discomfort. In such a scenario don't hesitate to set clear boundaries tactfully with the concerned colleague. Make sure that they understand what is acceptable to you and what is not. If it still persists then you may have to make sure that you communicate your intention to escalate the issue to your supervisor or team lead.
Avoid conflict of interest
Though you might be tempted to support your close friends at work, do not allow personal relationships to color your decision about professional matters. Be unbiased and neutral in all your dealings. Your first priority is to get the job done even if it means that you might upset your friend at work. If your friend sees it as being disloyal, clarify your position on the matter privately to him or her. Being tactful and honest will help you to set the record straight with your friend.
While relationships at the workplace are inevitable, it is important to limit the extent of intimacy and personal disclosures. It is not just your work skills and ethics that are under scrutiny. Another important aspect is the way you are perceived by the management and your co-workers. Portraying the right image at work will go a long way in ensuring respect and success at work.