Increasingly, people are looking for ways to prevent too much stress in their work life. It is a serious issue that warrants a closer examination. There are ways to prevent chronic stress and it starts with being well-equipped to communicate your boundaries.
Before we dig further into this topic, let me draw your attention to my most recent blog post entitled, Is it Time to Prioritize and Reduce?
This post offers key steps to begin the process of prioritizing and reducing self and other obligations in your life. In so doing, you create a buffer against chronic stress. Within the post, I highlight the following key points:
- Know what is most important in your life
- Identify and align your actions with your core values
- Connect to your core values and allow them to act as a "life filter" to deflect energy draining situations
- Learn to say “no” to people and situations that aren’t supporting your priorities or values
- Consciously choose to surround yourself with people who fuel you and don’t abandon you during difficult times
Communicating Boundaries at Work
Knowing your priorities and values begins the boundary-setting process.
Next, you communicate them.
It is quite likely that there will be several situations during your workday when it would be helpful to communicate a personal boundary.
What gets in your way?
Maybe you don't know what to say?
Perhaps you're worried that it will land wrong?
You might fear that the other person won't like you or worse, that it could impact your success at work.
It could simply come down to you not feeling confident about how to proceed.
Let’s look at a few specifics scenarios.
Dealing with Negative People
When you’re trying to manage your own automatic negative thoughts, the last thing you need to deal with is the verbalization of others negativity. Whether it is comments about other people, the work environment or a specific assignment, negative comments can bring you down. They can zap your energy. When someone starts in with negative comments, consider the following:
Once they finish a sentence and may be looking for you to respond, let them know that you’re working hard on finding ways to keep positive. If you want to keep talking to them, try changing the subject. If they don’t comply, politely communicate that you need to move along with your day.
Your Personal Life
Another scenario might be where someone asks you about your personal life and you don’t feel comfortable sharing. Let the person know that you would rather talk about professional topics rather than your personal life. If the person makes fun of you or continues to ask questions that are personal in nature, restate your boundary, and then leave (virtually or physically).
If you know this is something you want to get ahead of in future conversations with people, be sure to let others know, up front, about your boundaries and your request that they respect them. You can help them know your boundaries in this regard by sharing the topics you feel are off limits like finances, gossip, politics, and religion.
When Your Work Day Ends
How do you communicate your boundary regarding the end of your work day? Do you have communication norms established with your team and your leader regarding these expectations? If not, it is an important norm to establish. When you’re done for the day, let others know your routine and when you officially sign off for the day.
Communicating Boundaries Via Your Email Signature
Also, if you’re taking a day off work, let others know that you won’t be checking your emails or answering calls.
Now, if there is an emergency protocol, there will be specific requirements you need to follow. It is important for you and others to have a shared understanding of what constitutes an emergency.
What if you get double-booked for a meeting?
What if you’ve booked time in your calendar to take a 30-minute walk outside or want to enjoy a quiet lunch break?
Consider responding with something like this statement, “I received your meeting invitation, but I’m booked in another meeting already. Would it be possible to move this meeting back by x-date/time so that I can attend?” If this isn’t possible, perhaps the meeting could be recorded, or someone could be designated to brief you on the key action items.
Another option would be to respond with something like this, “I received your meeting invitation. Is it possible to move it back by 30-minutes? I have a scheduled lunch break at that time that I’m committed to honouring so I’m more energized and able to contribute to the success of our meeting.”
Add a statement in your email signature that clarifies response expectations. RescueTime.com has a great post about setting email expectations using your email signature out of office message. Additionally, RescueTime.com offers a great example using an out of office message specific to how you wish to communicate when working on a project. They suggest a statement like this, “I’m working on an urgent project and therefore will be checking emails only twice a day. I’ll respond to you within the next 24-48 hours.”
They also suggest leveraging your standard email signature to communicate when and how you prefer to respond to emails. I love this idea! It helps to set expectations and clearly communicates your boundaries.
Now, a key part of this equation is ensuring that you maintain your boundaries once others know about them. Once you start deviating from what you’ve communicated, it may signal to others that you don’t take the boundary seriously and therefore, neither should they.
Responding to Unrealistic Expectations
What if you run into a situation where someone wants you to respond immediately, and you feel that it isn’t doable and will create immense stress for you.
Consider saying something along these lines, “I appreciate your sense of urgency and the need you have shared with me. I have project A and B to complete. I’ve already committed to others that these projects are a priority. There isn’t sufficient time or resources to complete this new request and give it the attention and quality it deserves.”
If this request is coming from your leader, ask them which project should take priority. You could say something like: “I understand the importance of this new assignment. I’m happy to help if the current project I’m working on could be reprioritized so that I can adjust me focus appropriate and give this new project the attention it requires.”
Another response might include mentioning your realistic estimation for how long you believe it will take to complete the new project.
Try to negotiate an extension or brainstorm ways to reset expectations regarding the deliverables.
These suggestions represent just a handful of common examples of when you might need to communicate your boundaries at work. If you have specific questions, please contact me at [email protected]