Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Boundary: When your boss has crossed the line

It was the night of our annual office holiday party. The air was buzzing. People left the office early to go home and primp. Some even had hair appointments. At the company where I was working, the annual holiday party was a BIG deal. We could expect an amazing gift, fantastic food, great music and a celebrity appearance or two. This was the kind of event made famous in the fashion industry. Excessive drinking and dancing were expected. No one was expected to be professional on these nights; in fact, I think it was frowned upon. Holiday party stories would be the foundation of office entertainment until at least February.

Every year before the annual party, I would take my team out for a nice dinner so we could all coat our stomachs before the real drinking began. It also gave us a time to bond as a smaller team. This was a time that my team and I appreciated and truly enjoyed. They would lay out plans regarding alcohol intake and dance moves. Bets were placed on who would get in trouble with their spouses later that night.

Unfortunately, I had an impromptu meeting with my boss and had to stay much later than expected. My boss was notorious for these last minute, ‘emergency’ meetings and I prepared for the possibility by bringing my party dress with me to the office that day. When my boss first came to find me about this meeting, I was very clear with her that I needed to leave at a certain time as I was taking my team to dinner. She acknowledged this point but later when time was up didn't seem to care and continued the meeting. Eventually, I just got up and said ‘this can wait until tomorrow. I have to get ready for tonight.’ I left her made-up emergency meeting and went into the bathroom stall to change into my party dress. Five minutes later, she followed me into the bathroom to continue the meeting. I answered her questions and she finally left. Five minutes later she was back with more questions! This woman followed me into the bathroom… twice. She was out of control. I promise you that this ‘emergency’ meeting was absolutely not an emergency. My boss had just decided this was when she wanted to meet.

What did I do to let her think this was acceptable? I thought I had created a boundary but my boss just ran right over it like she was crossing the finish line of a marathon. In retrospect, I was not clear enough. I knew this woman and her bad behaviors. I created that boundary but then I let her cross it.
What could I have done to protect my boundary and keep my job? I have thought about this quite a bit over the years. The first time she came into the ladies room, I should not have answered her questions, but let her know I could help her for five minutes after I was done changing and out of the bathroom. By answering her immediately, I showed her that following me into the bathroom was acceptable.
What would you have done in this situation?

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