5 Principles for Effectively Maintaining Professional Boundaries as a Workforce Development Professional

Lisa Brown Jordan

Trust and respect are the keystones of all solid working relationships. As a successful workforce development professional, your goal is to develop a sense of trust and respect with your customers, along with a good rapport. They need to feel at ease when approaching you, relating to you and considering your advice.

Relationship-building, however, should not come at the expense of your credibility, effectiveness, health and personal life. Successful (and ethical!) working relationships are anchored on a clear understanding of what your role is and what it is not. Even if your work has personal meaning to you, you must always maintain professional boundaries.

Here are 5 key principles to consider when establishing and maintaining professional boundaries:

Empower, Don’t Rescue. Your role is to assist your customers in achieving their goals. Point them in the right direction, nurture the attitude needed, give them encouragement—but don’t do the work for them! You may feel that you’re being helpful when you do so, but you may be robbing them of the opportunity to learn, as well as the satisfaction of accomplishment. Remember, everyone is capable of finding solutions; don’t assume your customers are any different.

Service Time is Not “Me” Time. While the rule is not to self-disclose, you may consider doing so only when it substantiates a point that addresses a customer’s needs. Don’t use your relationship as an opportunity to vent your feelings. In fact, rule of thumb: just listen! Active listening places the proper focus on your customer. It also creates an environment of trust. If you talk or share too much, the customer may feel like you’re more of a “friend” versus an advisor. This will ultimately change the dynamics of your relationship as a service provider.

Be Consistent. Consistency is at the core of an effective professional relationship; it’s the trust-builder. Always do what you say you’re going to do. If necessary, under promise and over deliver! You need to be someone that your customers can count on. And be sure to treat each customer with the same kindness and respect—no matter how difficult this may be.

Be a Role Model. Customers look up to you, so you need to lead by example. Never exhibit behavior that is unprofessional, such as using profanity or taking advantage of your position to influence others. Always be on time for appointments and keep meetings concise and to the point. Keep the best interests of the customer in mind and always remember, especially when working with youth, that you are seen as the “expert.” It may not seem like it at times, but you are an authority in what you do.

Be Accountable. When working in a community setting, it’s easy to get lost, emotionally and professionally, in the systems that you’re assisting. Stay in touch with an anchor who can give you feedback, perhaps a co-worker. Never keep information from your supervisors; keep them updated with successes and challenges. No one likes to be caught off-guard. If you’re not certain what to do, consult with your supervisor.

While setting boundaries may feel like too much work, or even feel artificial, they are a necessary element in becoming a better service provider. Boundaries sustain your energy and ultimately provide more value in the development of your customers. They enhance the service process so it can run more efficiently and effectively. As with any relationship, if you have a clear grasp of who you are, and consequently who your customers are, the lines of communication will remain clearly understood.

Click here to learn about our Professional Boundaries virtual online training.