Do you know one of the most common phrases employees use? Well, let me share it with you; it’s
“yeah, sure, no problem”.
This overused phrase contributes to employees entering and then downing in that bottomless pit of “overwhelm”. Ultimately leads to burnout and career frustration. This is why setting effective boundaries is a MUST for your general well-being and definitely for your career development.
The ability to set boundaries is not restricted to work alone; it is a life skill that should be in place in both your professional and personal life. But for this blog, we will be focusing on setting boundaries at work. However, it can quickly be adopted into your personal life once you acquire the skill.
In this blog, I’ll explain why setting effective boundaries is essential, how you can effectively set boundaries, and leave you with three practicable suggestions if setting boundaries has proved difficult in the past or you are new to the concept.
What are Boundaries, and Why Do They Matter?
Psychology Today; defines Boundaries as: “the limits we set with other people, which indicate what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behaviour towards us.”
Defining what you believe to be acceptable/unacceptable behaviour is the catalyst for identifying when crossing a line. If you do not know how to react immediately, recognising that a line is crossed is the first step.
Think about being asked to do something, or it could be how you were asked that you found unacceptable. How did this affect how you carried out the task or even possibly responded to the situation?
Setting and communicating boundaries enables you to maintain control of the situation by articulating what you can and can’t do. In so doing, you prevent frustration, stress-balls formulating and eventually exploding.
How to Set Effective Boundaries
I. Define what you find acceptable and unacceptable.
The definition exercise can be as simple as writing them out – I find there is always something about putting pen to paper that gets it out of your head and drives you closer to action.
Asked to work on a project and was given notice that it would require a few late nights for that week.
On Friday, your manager told you to work on a RED RAG-rated project (i.e. a project that has been continuously severely behind schedule), meaning working all weekends with immediate effect.
A colleague shares an idea that originated from a conversation you had with them at a team meeting but gives you credit as the idea originator.
A colleague passes your idea off as their own at a team meeting and, as you interject, shuts you down.
Once you have defined your boundaries (and don’t worry, this is just a start for 10, feel free to add it as and when you need to), identify what boundary has been crossed and how it made you think; remember to keep it about YOU.
II Communicate your Boundaries
Once a boundary is crossed, clearly communicate your limits and the desired resolution. Again remember to keep the focus on YOU. Setting boundaries is about maintaining your well-being.
Let’s take the first example from the acceptable/unacceptable table. Understandably very few people would be happy with the unacceptable example provided, but instead of becoming frustrated and resenting the fact that you are being forced to give up your weekends with no notice; you could communicate your boundaries as follows:
“I will need sufficient notice for changes to my working hours, such as one week or at a minimum 72 hours.”
You don’t need to over-communicate your response. Otherwise, it appears you are seeking approval or trying to justify your boundaries instead of simply saying “No” to something that you are not comfortable with.
“Say ‘no’ simply but firmly to something you do not want to do. Do not feel that you need to explain” (Kairns, 1992).
The reason for communicating your boundaries is to gain a sense of control over a situation that you find unacceptable. Period.
III Stick to your Boundaries
There is bound to be pushback, especially the first time you express your boundaries, but it is essential to stick by them. Remember why you set them in the first instance, and use that as your North Star to guide you back to your boundaries.
Start recognising when people are approaching your limit and step in to exercise/communicate your boundaries. You don’t have to wait till they have jumped into boundary territory before sharing.
If you can see they are about to enter “choppy waters”, stop them there and communicate your boundaries.
The key objective of creating and maintaining boundaries is not about changing other people’s behaviour.
It is about changing YOURS.
Practice Makes Perfect
Setting and sticking to boundaries is not always easy, but practice makes perfect. So here’s what I would love for you to do ??
Create your acceptable and unacceptable table.
Define your boundary.
Perhaps, write down your boundary response in an extra column of the table.
When that boundary is crossed – COMMUNICATE your response.