Do you have trouble saying "no" to people at work? With the constantly growing list of opportunities we have to say "yes" to, most of us find setting boundaries more challenging than ever before.
Yes, I can take on that extra project, although my days are already too full. Yes, I can have that difficult conversation, even though it's your responsibility and not mine. Yes, I can work over the weekend, even though my family and friends had plans.
Sound familiar at all?
"Learning to set and keep clear boundaries with your boss and colleagues is essential if you want to remain happy and productive at work," explained best-selling author and resilience, wellbeing and productivity coach Valorie Burton when I interviewed her recently.
"Boundaries are a definition. Think of it like owning a house where you have specific boundaries around that property and you know what is your responsibility to take care of, and when you step out of that you know the area that's not your responsibility," suggested Valorie.
"When we begin to blur those lines, that's where we tend to find ourselves in situations that become very frustrating."
Setting boundaries means saying "no" by asking for the respect we want and honoring these needs. Valorie recommends trying these five steps to making setting boundaries easier at work:
- Get clear on the boundaries you need - Start by asking what are the boundaries you need to protect your own peace, joy and serenity at work. Try to clearly envision what your life at work would be like if these boundaries were respected and gracefully enforced. Ask yourself: "What does that give me? How does it feel when I have clear boundaries? How does it feel when I am operating at my optimal potential?" Then notice the areas where you most feel frustrated, stressed or overwhelmed currently and how, when and by whom these boundaries are being crossed.
- Challenge the stories that hold you back - When it comes to setting boundaries, we often catastrophize about the consequences of saying 'no' to other people at work. It takes a lot of courage to sit down with your boss and say, "I need to do this differently. Can we talk this through?" What if it upsets them, they no longer like you, or maybe you could even be fired! Ask yourself: "Who am I most afraid to say no to? What am I afraid will happen if I do?" Make the space for self-reflection and write out what you need to say this person to help you feel more confident about honoring the boundaries you require to maintain your happiness and success at work.
- Start with one conversation - Don't try and set all your boundaries at once. Take it one conversation at a time and practice identifying, asking and keeping a boundary. Notice what works, adjust what doesn't and keep moving forward to make these conversations an effective part of the way you work.
- Enforce your boundaries - Create a plan of action for what will happen when your boundaries are crossed . Be sure to compassionately let people know when you feel your boundaries are not being respected (most people will mean no malice, but may be unaware of the impact their behavior is having on you). Communicate clearly what choices you will need to make to honor the boundaries you've set to ensure you can successfully support yourself, your team and your organization.
- Pay attention to what works - When you begin moving forward and setting better boundaries, give yourself credit for each step forward. You'll find, just like a baby learning to walk, from time to time you may stumble but if you keep getting back up then eventually you won't fall as much. Setting boundaries takes practice so give yourself permission to keep learning and growing knowing that this is a skill vital for your success and happiness.
For more ways to set boundaries successfully at work be sure to check out Valorie's new book "Get Unstuck, Be Unstoppable".
And if you'd like more tested, practical ways to show up, shine and succeed at work then grab this free podcast series from leading thinkers in the field of human flourishing.
This article first appeared in Live Happy Magazine.