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Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP Headshot

Setting Limits, 'Funly'

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As a leader or employee, it is sometimes necessary to set limits with other people. They walk into your office, interrupt conversations or send you emails with questionably funny jokes or photos attached.

In order to function in a job or just to get your work done, you must occasionally set limits. Yet, these limits do not need to be rude, aggressive or involve threats of bodily harm. They can be fun.

In one organization, a manager put a sign on his door that looked like a gas gauge. On one side was a cool blue lake. On the other side was a raging volcano. When he was in his office, he would position the needle on the gauge based on how he was feeling at the time or what problems he was dealing with. The gauge informed people whether it was a good time to interrupt him... or not.

I met a physician who was constantly bombarded with medical questions whenever he went out to a party or social gathering. People would describe a pain in their hip, demonstrate their nagging cough all over him or lift up a pants leg to expose a nasty looking rash. While it made for great conversation, it prevented this physician from enjoying the party. So, he started wearing an "off duty" button on his shirt or jacket. It sent a playful message to others to keep their viruses to themselves.

As president of the National Speakers Association, a term I just finished, I was honored to stay in the president's suite for our annual convention at the Philadelphia Marriott. I was provided that suite, not because I needed a large space for myself, but because I hosted several receptions there throughout the convention.

Since there was no separate entrance to my bedroom, I didn't want guests wandering into my personal space. They don't need to see my overused toothbrush or how neatly (OCD) I arrange my shoes. So, I crafted a sign for my door. It said "Private -- Love Chamber -- By Invitation Only."

It sent the right message with a little fun. And by the way, no one ventured into my room!

The point on setting limits is simple. When you need to create healthy boundaries, consider adding a little humor to make your message less threatening. Then you can follow it up with a more serious comment that clarifies the need for the limits.

Here are two work examples:

"I'm sorry I can't have lunch with you this week. My watermelon cleansing diet keeps me on the run... so to speak. Seriously, I have several deadlines this week and don't have a free minute for lunch away from my desk."

"Thanks for bringing that issue to me. Unfortunately, I'm waiting for President Obama to call. He asked my advice on the Miley Cyrus VMA performance. Seriously, I'm in the middle of two projects right now that require all of my attention. Could we schedule a time later today or tomorrow to talk so that you get my undivided attention?"

My favorite example of setting limits was a company that was chasing a vendor that had not paid its bill in nine months. The company finally sent another invoice but at the top of the invoice, wrote, "Your invoice is now nine months overdue. We have carried you longer than your mother did."

The bill was paid in two weeks.

Setting limits is necessary, but not always fun. If you think about how to make the process more fun, it will be less threatening to you and to others.

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