This resource focuses on approaches to effectively managing personal boundaries in the workplace. It addresses questions about both physical contact and question-asking in the specific context of a diverse learning and working environment.
Sometimes our genuine interest in or curiosity about people that are different from ourselves leads to behavior that others experience as inappropriate, hurtful, or angering. Personal boundaries vary for all people. Just because someone is a member of a particular cultural group does not mean they will have any specific concerns about personal boundaries. What is true, though, is that when we are in the minority, our differences from the majority tend to be marked. They can seem “exotic” or “unusual” to others even though, for us, they are just parts of who we are.
Our office sometimes hears from people on campus who have had their pregnant bellies, their hair, and/or their clothing touched and handled by strangers and/or coworkers or others – without permission or despite being told that such gestures are not comfortable or appropriate. We have been asked to offer some resources to help members of our community think more fully about physical contact in the context of diversity and differences.
We have also been asked to provide some help in thinking about other, less concrete or physical boundaries. When is it okay to ask someone about their heritage, their mode of dress, their cultural practices, their religious practices or beliefs? What are some ways of doing so that will express genuine curiosity – a desire to learn and make connections – without being disrespectful or invasive?
These are complex questions, because no one simply represents a group to which they belong. We are all individuals. Nonetheless, we can become more thoughtful about our impulses and motivations, educated about particular histories that may shape how our efforts to learn more might be received, and open to others’ messages about their own boundaries.
Last Updated: 10/22/08