Defining Boundaries

If you’re a fan of the sitcom Seinfeld, you likely remember the close talker episode. Google it if you have no idea what I’m talking about—it’s a good time and well worth 2.5 minutes of your day.

As professionals, most of us have a good understanding of personal space and social awareness. If you work in admissions and have ever done a college fair, you have your table to thank for a built-in boundary.

But how do you define virtual boundaries? Every year there seems to be that one parent who just won’t leave you alone. The emails keep coming with question after question. If you’re good at your job and love what you do, you probably write back without thinking a thing about it.

Our role in higher education, especially in recruitment, is to help students (and parents) grow and develop skills they need to succeed in life. If you’re continually feeding them the answers they need, why should they do any research or (heaven forbid) read the material you send in the mail, when they can whip off an email or text to you and get an instant reply?

If you realize a parent or student may be taking advantage of your strong work ethic and good upbringing, it may be time to disengage. Try these ideas to help foster independence

  • Refer to the appropriate office or staff member who can provide the best and most accurate information
  • Shorten communications and cover only the essentials—don’t ask about their day, or the outcome of the recent vet visit they shared with you last week
  • Reply to email, voicemail, or texts only when a question is asked that you can help with—forward messages to colleagues to assist with other issues
  • Close emails without the offer of being able to “help with any other questions you have!”

Unsure what to do next? Talk to your supervisor or mentor for other suggestions or encouragement. Breaking up is hard to do, but you can do it!