The A-Z of Mediation: Boundaries

Posted on: January 30th, 2023

Conflict is a natural part of life. And, very often, it’s a result of our personal BOUNDARIES being infringed upon: what we want, what we need, and what behaviour we will and won’t accept.

Simply put, they’re the structures needed for us to feel safe, valued, and respected, and can vary wildly from person to person. They can also vary between relationships: the boundaries we have with our family, for example, will of course be different to those we have with our work colleagues.

Oftentimes, we assume that people will automatically respect these boundaries – after all, they seem like a no-brainer to us! But sadly, this isn’t always the case.

As a result, it’s important for us to communicate our own boundaries effectively. We must first decide what behaviour is okay – entirely subjective, of course – and also how to respond to those who go beyond what we consider to be appropriate.

A lot of the time, just making it known that a boundary has been crossed is enough. If someone talks over us in a meeting, for example, we might have a quiet word with them after.

Pick a time and a place – privately and away from others – and broach the subject assertively:

“I didn’t like the way that you interrupted me in that meeting, and I would appreciate it if you would let me say my piece in future meetings.”

95% of the time, problem solved – the person is now aware of the issue and endeavours to make sure that it won’t happen again. Fantastic – we’ve nipped the issue in the bud and prevented further conflict!

But what happens if there’s pushback from the other person? What if this particular boundary of ours is at odds with one of their own?

And what if this has been bubbling under the surface for a long time? Did all of that pent-up frustration result in us ‘lashing out’ instead?

These are situations where a facilitated conversation with a line manager might help or, if it’s really entrenched, a mediation session with an impartial third party may be more appropriate.

Here at UK Mediation, we are often called in when parties just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye, or when the conflict hasn’t been addressed in a timely manner. Mediation can help bring the parties together in a safe and supported environment, helping them to build understanding of their own and others’ boundaries, and move towards a future-focused agreement.

It’s impossible for us to get along with everyone that we meet and our own boundaries won’t always be compatible with others’. As a result, it’s important for us to be aware of our own boundaries and to communicate them effectively, which can help to prevent unnecessary conflict.