Boundaries / Límites


Conflict is inherent to human relationships. And yet, there are people who can’t deal with it. Our approach to conflict depends on, among other things, our willingness to take care of what we need while we care of what the other needs. Thus, setting boundaries is essential, but not always easy.

Conflict is always an emotional issue

Personal boundaries help us understand what is essential to us and what we can negotiate; they define the level of comfort we need in a relationship with another person.

Whether the boundaries are emotional or physical, we need to be clear about them if we are to develop a healthy approach to conflict.

Conflict can arise for a variety of reasons, but there is always an emotional component beneath the surface. Usually at the heart of the conflict is something that crosses our emotional boundaries, whether we know it or not.

If we don’t know about our boundaries, we can find ourselves in a fight with no clear exit because we couldn’t ask for what we need to solve the problem.

Working in teams

A team is a structure with a high risk of conflict. In addition to the need to achieve results, there is a need to align expectations and ways of working. Assuming everyone is on the same page without making it explicit is a big and common mistake.

Our boundaries, known or unknown, also shape our expectations when working in teams. They usually have to do with concepts like responsibility, respect, honesty, clarity, contribution…; big words that mean different things to different people. Problems arise when we assume that everyone sees reality as we do.

Therefore, some conversations are needed to explore individual and collective boundaries; so that the team can establish a way of working that works for everyone. For this to happen, the leader should foster a climate in which everyone can share and ask for what they need.

The role of the leader

Culture in a team is usually built from the top down. The leader’s role is fundamental in creating the right conditions for everyone to feel comfortable and contribute at their highest level. Unresolved conflict prevents this.

Therefore, the leader should be the catalyst for setting collective boundaries and expectations for behaviors and ways of working, and for defining the necessary levels of accountability.

Knowing what is needed in a team and what the boundaries are reduces uncertainty, builds trust, and clears the way for conflict.

Image by Rob Wicks at Unsplash