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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

Setting Boundaries At Work

The concept of “Boundaries” has always interested me. I’ve been told so many times that I need to set some. This was often rather unhelpful information - because being told to set some boundaries, actually knowing what your boundaries are and how to go about setting them are different things. Can we buy some from Amazon?!

My favourite definition of boundaries is from Brene Brown as she explains that “boundaries are making clear what is ok, and not ok, and why”.

We’ve run a series of webinars this year around this topic. When we asked participants how problems with setting boundaries impacted them, we were not surprised to see that having boundaries trampled all over led to all sorts of problems - anxiety, burnout, not being able to cope with demands and having to leave work, difficulties with co-workers and managers...the list goes on.

How do you say no to your boss when they ask you to do a task you don’t have the capacity to do? How do you negotiate with colleagues, when you can’t drop everything to help them with their task? How can you put your priorities and workload first (without being seen as being selfish and unhelpful?).

Why do we find it tricky to set boundaries at work? So many reasons…

  1. We are scared of what others think

  2. We don't know how to say no

  3. To avoid having conflict with others

  4. Worried about what the consequences could be

  5. Because it feels more important to please others than help yourself

  6. It’s work - you do what you’re asked to do

  7. Weird power dynamics with managers

  8. We don’t know how to do it - we’ve never been taught the skill!

In addition to this, many people have been working from home on and off during the past 18 months, so work and life are squishing together and you don't know where “work” ends and “life” begins.

So what can you do? Here are some quick tips that may help you figure out when your boundaries are being overstepped at work and what your boundaries are.

  1. Notice - your body knows when your boundaries are being impacted. Notice when you feel annoyed, frustrated or irritated by people at work (or even yourself).

  2. Record - make a note of it, write it down somewhere private.

  3. Calm down - when you’re feeling like you’re in more of a reflective space, go back to your note

  4. Get curious - ask yourself some questions. What was it that upset, annoyed or triggered you? Ask yourself what it was specifically about the situation that bothered you so much? What could you learn from the situation? What does that tell you about your needs?

  5. Then sprinkle on some compassion. How can you show kindness to yourself, or the other party? So you’re not having to carry this resentment around with you.

This will give you some useful information to start to understand where your boundaries are. Then you can figure out how to use that information to start putting some boundaries in place.

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