In case you missed it: How to Train Your Boss: Finding Boundaries (Part 1)
Work without Limits
Recently hired to a new position, work consumed my life.
Twelve-hour workdays seemed normal. Lunch breaks went ignored in order to plough through ongoing projects. At home, I awoke throughout the night to reply to my phone’s continuous stream of email alerts. I repeatedly excused myself from conversations with friends and family in order to answer work-related calls, emails, and text messages.
Hungry, sleepless, and stressed, my performance dwindled. Many restless nights tolled on my wounded spirit. My shoulders hunched forward in defeat. Amidst my desperation, I asked a well-trusted colleague for his time.
My voice broke, “What do I do? I can’t keep working like this.”
A warm, understanding smile filled the wise face of my colleague.He softly replied, “Sometimes, we have to train our boss.”
In his wisdom, he led me to recognize that I am incapable of always being available to my boss and colleagues. With the stress of constant availability, my blaze of performance became a walking shadow.
My colleague led me to a simple answer: set boundaries.
What are boundaries? Don’t boundaries make you selfish? Healthy boundaries are limits that allow both parties to best serve those around them. These boundaries allow us to be selfless, not self-harming or selfish.
Good boundaries create the time and space for positive interactions. Boundaries limit what communication and behaviors are permissible.
Boundaries allow the employee to feel respected. Good leaders know that an employee who does not feel respected will not be engaged at work.
Healthy boundaries allow you to take care of your needs so that you can give your company your best performance. By respecting my time, I could be present: as a volunteer, employee, friend, and spouse.
The Problem: Communication and Work Relationships
The solution to my problem seemed simple: guard my time. Yet I saw distinct obstacles in the horizon:
Would my boss think my stress was part of the learning process as a new employee? Would he interpret my need for boundaries as the inability to do my job well? Would he see me as inflexible and respond with anger, frustration, or dismissal?
As an employee, how on earth could I set boundaries without seeming entitled, whiny, or disengaged?
Clinical psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud stated, “Boundaries are a ‘litmus test’ for the quality of our relationships.” Most bosses want to create a company built with respect. If we communicate correctly, we can set ourselves up for success when discussing boundaries.
How to Train Your Boss: Finding Boundaries (Part 2)
In my last post, a lack of boundaries negatively impacted my ability to perform as an employee and relate to people in my daily life.
Why did I allow myself to be walked over? How could I allow others to make work my first priority in my life? I did not want to hurt my company; I earnestly believed in my company’s mission. Yet, my inability to set boundaries at work not only hurt me, but hurt my company’s performance. How could I let this happen?
I could not blame my team or my boss for my substandard performance. When I made myself continually available, I created my extreme stress and permitted myself to be overworked.
As an employee, how can I set boundaries without seeming entitled, whiny, or disengaged?
Move Forward: Set Boundaries with Your Boss
- Recognize the cause of the problem: When you feel disrespected, you need to find the appropriate limit to reestablish respect. Recognizing the cause of the problem allows you to understand whether you are acting selfish or too selfless. When you cannot address the basic needs of yourself and your family, you need to analyze the choices that created this situation. When you see the cause of your distress, you can figure out the boundary that is necessary to apply.Once I realized that my constant availability created my problems, I could initiate a great conversation with my boss.
- Speak in terms of your boss’s interest: When I began the conversation with my boss, I started in his perspective. I gave him a concise report about the way my availability affected his bottom line and my effectiveness as an employee on his team.Understand your boss’s predicament: your performance reflects on your boss’s part of the business. Your boss’s team feels the consequences of your stress. Ultimately, your performance affects the bottom line. Explain to your boss how your performance affects them. Describe how the current lack of boundaries affects your performance. Stress how you will both win with a new boundary. Encourage your boss to help brainstorm ways to create a win-win.
- Be gracious and firm: There is absolutely no reason to be rude, melodramatic, or condescending. This is an opportunity to be seen as a leader and problem solver. Great leaders do not force demands; they inspire others to follow with willing cooperation.
- Set your limits, and spell out the consequences: Be clear and concise about your limits. Set yourself up for success by leaving little room for misunderstanding.Create a plan of action to take place if someone does not abide by your boundary. When you are first setting boundaries, people tend to test them – sometimes in goodwill. Be gracious and remind the offenders of your previous conversation, and follow through with your plan of action.When I conversed with my boss, he readily agreed that I should not be constantly available. He brought up some great ideas to balance my life and work. I still implement most of his ideas.Sometimes, my team contacts me after hours with the underlying intention of having me help on a project right away. I politely respond with: “Thank you for telling me. I will work on it when I come in tomorrow.” This statement reinforces boundaries and acknowledges that I heard their problem.
Benefit Your Team
Healthy boundaries foster respect at all levels of the workplace. If we are in a position that makes it hard for others to say “no” to us, we need to be highly conscientious of our expectations of others. A subordinate’s external “yes” may mean an internal “no”. We do not want to create resentment by forcing others to say “yes”.
When you want to train your boss and team: set healthy boundaries. This creates the respect your team needs to thrive.