Guide on wellbeing: Where do you draw the line? Healthy boundaries in interactions 

Information on where to draw the line between inappropriate and appropriate treatment in the university community and on how to react when observing inappropriate behaviour.

Each member of the university community has the responsibility to take care of the positive atmosphere and wellbeing of the study and work community. Everybody also has the right to be treated properly and respectfully, because good behaviour is a prerequisite for a functioning learning and work environment and for an individual’s wellbeing. 

What kind of treatment is appropriate? 

Appropriate treatment means respecting the physical and psychological boundaries of others. It’s characterised by treating other people as well as oneself with good will and constructive honesty, in speech, body language and actions. For example, communicating in a curious, open and warm way helps to express difficult feelings, such as anger as assertiveness, instead of aggressivity, and automatic reactivity. It’s important that this curious, open and warm attitude is also communicated in one’s tone of voice and body language. It’s not about hiding your feelings or pretending to be happy, instead the idea is to act authentically, bravely and decisively, while being equally curious about your own perspective and the perspective of others. 

Here’s some examples of what appropriate communication can sound like: “When you say that I notice that I get frustrated”, “I’m sorry to say this but that way of doing things doesn’t work for me. Can we work out a solution that works for the both of us?”, “I disagree.”, “Could you explain what you meant with what you just said? I want to understand how you see this situation.” 

How can we recognise inappropriate treatment? 

Inappropriate treatment can take many forms. It can be speech, body language and actions, but also, for example, silence. Physically inappropriate treatment can often be more easily recognisable than psychological inappropriate treatment. However, what is considered inappropriate treatment depends very much on the context, and on the person who experiences the behaviour. 

Uniarts Helsinki’s guidelines for dealing with inappropriate treatment 

Uniarts Helsinki has compiled guidelines for dealing with inappropriate treatment. The guidelines, called Treat Me Well, go through the different forms of inappropriate treatment (bullying, discrimination, harassment, misuse of power) by providing examples from realistic interactions in an academic context. Consult these guidelines if you are unsure whether the treatment you experienced was appropriate or not.  

What can I do if I experience inappropriate treatment? 

If something feels wrong, it feels wrong. You do not have to justify having any feeling. When possible, express yourself clearly to the person who is behaving in an inappropriate way, say that their behaviour is hurtful and ask them to stop. When you are having the conversation with the person, explain what exactly you thought constituted inappropriate treatment in the person’s actions. Say to the person that you do not approve of their actions and ask them to stop. This way you can help the person who is behaving inappropriately become aware of the hurtfulness of their actions. In the best-case scenario, this feedback, or some other constructive approach to the situation will fix the problem. On some occasions, inappropriate treatment may lead to the filing of a police report, for example. If the situation is threatening, leave and/or ask another person to join you. 

Behaving in a firm way helps when interacting with others. The main idea is that everyone’s rights and needs are equally valuable. Recognising your own boundaries and defending them and appreciating yourself are important skills that support your wellbeing. Knowing how to firmly set your personal boundaries can help you defend your own rights and limits without disregarding anyone else’s rights.  

Remember that you don’t have to deal with the matter alone 

If you face inappropriate treatment, it’s important that you don’t struggle with the matter alone or blame yourself for the situation. The university community has designated persons who can support their fellow community members in dealing with conflicts and taking the matter forward.  

Their contact information, along with other information on what do in cases of inappropriate treatment, is available in the Treat Me Well guidelines. 

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