Business advice: Should you draw a boundary or build a barrier?

Feb. 9. When we interact with others often we are talking about ideas, problems to solve, decisions to be made, performance evaluations, or the assessment of outcomes. At these times it’s not only what we say but also how we say it that determines if the other person feels we have set a boundary or if we have built a barrier. In communication the difference can be immensely important.

What’s the difference?


An expressed boundary delineates a recognizable position, preference, or perspective. Information is offered with the intent to help others understand something while remaining open to new information and other’s perspective. It can add clarity, be helpful, and offer transparency. A boundary can be respected yet it can also be moved when new information is learned.

Barriers in conversation are established to protect and defend one’s opinion or belief while sending a signal the communicator does not seek a new view. They can be used to delineate firm ownership, and impermeable opinions.


Simply put, boundaries on a map guide one in a journey; fences are barriers in a journey that hinder movement and must be ventured around or climbed over. Communication is a journey that is generally best used to guide all involved toward fact, truth, collaborative best practices, and productive relationships.

Which to create?

Everyone sets guiding barriers in their life that aren’t (and should not be) easily subject to change, such as one’s principles; but not every communication revolves around such things. Generally, in daily communications, if we select our words so others know we are open to their perspectives and views, we earn and receive them.

What is achieved?

We mimic each other. If we offer boundaries rather than build barriers when we speak it shows we are open to listening well, others will, too. A robust but civil conversation can occur to the benefit of all. It can help us see the world from the eyes of others. We may discover we are looking at the exact same situation- just from a different vantage point.

Cheryl Kane, MBA, PHR, GPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a strategic business consultant, sales trainer, & professional speaker specializing in problem solving and planning. Cheryl welcomes your communication at email: [email protected]


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