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30 Rock and Setting Boundaries

Generation Why Blog by Aik Kramer

30 Rock and Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are about managing how we interface with one another. They come up when we need space, when someone’s behavior makes us uncomfortable or angry, or when problems from work migrate into your personal life. However, setting boundaries doesn’t always mean ‘taking distance’. In fact, setting limits with others may improve your relationships as you’ll be more comfortable with the other person. Setting clear boundaries can make it easier to become ‘close’ with someone.

Conflict and Setting Boundaries

Conflicts often emerge because boundaries are not managed appropriately, or simply when someone sets them. An episode of the comedy series 30 Rock, named Gentlemen’s Intermission (S5E6) provides a funny example of the importance of personal and interpersonal boundaries.

The show starts out with Jack, the head of NBC, having a discussion with his wife about their unborn child’s name. Jack’s distaste for one of the names was based on the advice of a colleague, Liz Lemon. Jack’s girlfriend does not like this and pushes him to set boundaries with Liz.

The following scene opens with Liz, entering Jack’s office. She wants to discuss her father’s visit into New York, as she fears her father will cheat on her mother. Again, a personal boundary issue emerges whereas Liz takes responsibility for her parent’s happiness. Jack sets a boundary, stating: “If this is a personal matter we can’t discuss it”. Liz is so dependent on Jack that she lacks internal emotional control to handle it independently. Liz goes to other colleagues who offer no assistance.

Liz can’t resolve this problem without Jack, so she calls his home late at night. Unexpectedly, Jack’s girlfriend picks up. After Liz avoids to be caught by pretending that she’s a German woman, Jack’s girlfriend reinforces the boundary and hangs up.

Based on her independent judgment, Liz dresses up as an older woman and goes to a strip bar in order to convince her father not to cheat. The plan backfires when people at the strip club accuse her of romantically pursuing her own father. The father then reinforces his interpersonal boundary with her.

The last scene brings resolution to the boundary issues between Liz Lemon and Jack, but not through maintaining the newly set boundaries:

Jack’s Girlfriend: “I never should have never interfered with… whatever this is…”

Liz: [answers] “Work Husband-Uncle”

Jack’s Girlfriend: [answers] “Co-worker-Little Brother”

Jack’s Girlfriend: “Well, [Liz] isn’t ready to move on…”

Liz: “It’s true, I’m wearing a Duane Ried bag as underwear today.”

Jack’s Girlfriend: “For whatever reason, he needs you too.”

Jack: “It’s a symbiotic relationship. I’m a great white shark, Lemon, and you: you are a remora clinging to me with your suction cup head. I give you a free ride and in exchange, you eat my parasites.”

Jack’s Girlfriend: “I’m going to leave you too alone” (she kisses Jack).

This example shows how challenging it can be to set a boundary for yourself or others. You need to decide on the goal and how to consistently achieve it. When you’ve decided, you need to reinforce that boundary, regardless of the resistance from the others involved. Change is a challenge but with time, the boundaries will set.

Written with Jonathan Elston (Montreal, Canada)

Jonathan Elston is a canadian mediator who was part of the genwhy-team in 2011. The blog Lady Gaga on trust was also co-authored with him. Check him out at


Aik Kramer

Aik Kramer (LLM) works as a professional mediator, researcher and consultant. He specializes in public policy mediation. He has worked for the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs, The National ombudsman and various municipalities. In 2007 he founded, a platform for young mediators. MORE >

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