Boundaries in an Overconnected World: Setting Limits to Preserve Your Focus, Privacy, Relationships, and Sanity
Anne Katherine is a boundaries expert: what they are, what they do, why you need them, and how to set them.
In Boundaries in an Overconnected World she brings her established expertise to our cyber lives to negotiate the minefields of the many types of online interpersonal relationships.
Personal boundaries are extremely underrated and misunderstood in everyday life. They situate you within a large or small group and regulate behaviors around you. If more people had a good working knowledge of boundaries including when to set them up and when to honor them we’d have a better place to live.
Boundaries in an Overconnected World brings the author’s interpretations of boundaries into the discussion of how to communicate and conduct effective business in cyberspace. It’s also a good compilation of earlier analyses about how clear communication positively impacts your goals.
Ms. Katherine defines a boundary as “a limit that protects the integrity, autonomy, or wholeness of an entity” (such as you). A boundary regulates the flow of energy and information coming in and going out. Physical boundaries can be clear: a fence or a door marks a boundary we can see. That doesn’t mean we don’t violate these boundaries, but at least they are noticeable.
The boundaries of online interaction now need to be understood and deployed. Each time we email or post a message we are “trusting the boundaries, common sense, and discrimination of every person that information might reach.” That’s a lot of people.
The idea of online behavior isn’t new. “Online etiquette” has been a subject for exploration and instruction before there was an Internet (think AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, Bitnet, etc.). What’s the easiest way to violate boundaries online? Ms. Katherine hones in on electronic mail and “intrusion violations”—sending jokes, lists and pictures en masse—spamming friends and acquaintances, and the people they forward the messages to. These intrusions take you away from what you are doing and violate your boundaries.
The author offers exercises for setting boundaries, as well as checklists, and technology information on how to have the popular programs (Outlook) do it for you. All of these can help stem the spam from friends and associates. This information is helpful to anyone who wants to optimize their use of communication channels, and who can easily find their staffers (as well as their own) time deployed unwisely and unprofitably.
As much as we set boundaries with others, a reality gets in the way: electronic mail is free. That’s a major reason for so many “intrusion violations.” Boundaries fall like dominoes because email is free. Charging per message or limiting message frequency are the best boundary setters of all when it comes to intrusion violations. Email is the stepchild of the Internet age: it never had a discernible return on investment, but business crossed the great divide from “nice to have” to “must have” in the 1990s.
Email is only one culprit now. Add free social media intruders (Facebook, Twitter), more devices (tablets and smartphones), and the situation worsens exponentially. Free communication channels will knock down boundaries.
Also problematic are “gap violations”—situations in which one fails to act or respond when an action is called for. And they often carry an ambiguity that leaves a person in suspension. What does no answer mean? Did it arrive? Was the message ignored? There are too many aspects to tread this well-plowed ground again. The best advice is that many times using the telephone is the right solution.
And if someone really doesn’t want to hear from you, apply the old axiom: not to communicate is to communicate. Get the message and move on.
Ms. Katherine gives some good advice to people who need to stay on the straight and narrow: “just don’t open” that email, the Internet connection, the browser or chat program. Way back before networking, desktop computers processed words and crunched numbers and weren’t connected to anything but an electrical socket.
But the days of no connectivity are over as the Internet and its many devices replace the telephone for people across the globe. While for some “Just Don’t Open” will work, the interactivity of the medium compels people to, well, interact, and communicating with others for business collaboration, networking, and keeping in touch is the name of the game.
Anyone who needs to understand boundaries and the various harm not having them can bring to your business and professional life, Boundaries in an Overconnected World makes it very clear. This book is recommended for those who think they need it—and especially for those who don’t know they do.