Part of any job is building and maintaining relationships. Unfortunately, this is not always simple. You might work with difficult people who push your buttons. You might be a people pleaser who struggles to say “no.” Maybe your work environment is high stress. In all of these scenarios, it’s especially important to know how to set boundaries. 

In our previous article, we covered the reasons why it’s important to set boundaries. Here, we will help those who struggle in this area to set professional boundaries. 

Give Yourself Permission

A lot of people struggle to set boundaries because they don’t trust that what they feel is valid. They might think that they’re “overreacting” and that they should just put up with the behavior. Others worry that setting a boundary will disrupt the professional relationship or put their job in jeopardy. 

If you are feeling resentful at work, it’s time to set a boundary. Boundaries aren’t unprofessional; they are necessary to ensure that you can work while maintaining your wellbeing. Boundaries are a normal part of professional life. Give yourself permission to ask for what you need.

Identify What You Need

Before you set a boundary, it’s important to understand exactly what it is you need from this person. For example, if you have a coworker who constantly interrupts you when you’re trying to concentrate, you might need this person to schedule a time to meet with you rather than just popping in whenever they feel like it. Figure out exactly what it is you’re looking for before you approach the conversation to ensure you get what you need from the interaction. 

Be Clear and Specific 

It doesn’t help to beat around the bush. If you need to set boundaries, be as direct as possible. Jokes or sarcasm get easily lost in translation. People will only truly understand what you need from them if you make a point to be clear and specific. For example, you could say, “I am in the middle of a project and can’t talk right now. Please send me a calendar invite so we can talk about this later this afternoon.” This tells them exactly what you need from them with no room for interpretation. 

Stay Calm 

When you approach someone in an emotional way, it naturally activates their nervous system as well, making it difficult for them to truly hear what you’re saying. If you’re feeling very angry or frustrated, give yourself time to calm down before you set your boundary. In the scenario above, you might help that person in the moment, take an hour to cool off, then let them know that in the future, they should schedule time with you rather than just coming by in a calm tone.

Stick to Your Boundaries 

In a perfect world, you would be able to set a boundary and going forward, that person would respect that boundary forever. Unfortunately, this isn’t realistic. Someone might forget your boundary, or they may push back against it out of their own self-interest. Stay true to your boundary once you’ve set it by using your behavior as a guide. If this coworker keeps interrupting your work, continue to refuse to help them without a scheduled meeting. Over time, they should come to understand that you are serious about this boundary. 

If you’re looking for mental health support due to a stressful work environment, we would love to help you. Contact New Transitions Counseling Center for cognitive behavioral therapy in Palatine.