In the realm of having difficult conversations and giving feedback, one such difficult discussion that is important and often avoided is that of setting boundaries. That is, setting boundaries at work with your peers, subordinates and superiors and setting boundaries at home. This includes saying no, setting and managing expectations, articulating your values and what you will and will not tolerate, and establishing a sense of fairness.
Boundaries can be defined as “the limits we set with other people, which indicate what we find acceptable and unacceptable in their behaviour towards us and others in the workplace and outside the workplace”. Boundaries can also relate to how, when, where, and what we do and why we work.
Research has shown that 40% of employees are uncertain of what is expected of them from their supervisors. This is a clear indicator that expectations and boundaries have not been clearly set and articulated and we know that many people avoid these conversations.
There are many reasons as to why we should set boundaries and they include safety, productivity, efficiency, respect, and emotional intelligence, to name a few.
In this article, I would like to suggest that setting boundaries is also strongly aligned with your self-care. So when you fail to set boundaries or allow your boundaries to be crossed, think of it as “not looking after yourself” or “not taking self-care”.
Learning to set boundaries from a self-care perspective is a crucial skill. Here are 4 benefits of setting boundaries that relate to your self-care.
1. Boundaries will teach you to say “no” and accept “no” from others.
If you don’t learn to speak up when something is outside of your boundaries you could end up agreeing to something that does not align with your values or you could end up saying yes to extra work which now puts you under pressure.
When someone says no to you and that no is within the context of their boundaries, you will be better able to accept the no, not take it personally and not perceive it as a rejection.
Having clear boundaries allows you to say no when you need to without feeling guilty or feeling like you have let someone down.
2. Boundaries will help you show people how to treat you.
If you have clear boundaries, people will know how to communicate, interact and work with you. Your boundaries are like a roadmap of your values and expectations and people can respect them and honour them. There will be less circumstances of people crossing your boundaries with the excuse that they did not know or were unaware that you expected a certain behaviour or standard.
3. Boundaries allow you to advocate for your needs and take care of others by enforcing your limits to others.
In the past, it was often thought that we should stay out of conversations, interactions or behaviours that did not involve us. It was simply none of our business how two other people interacted.
This has long changed and we need to intercede and advocate on behalf of others. This include speaking up in the areas of bullying and harassment, checking in if someone is OK at work and calling out bad behaviour.
Psychological safety is a big part of people feeling safe at work. Having clear and well articulated boundaries allows people to advocate for others when they see boundaries stretched or broken.
4. Boundaries allow you to acknowledge your feelings.
Boundaries allow us to better express our feelings at work. We can talk about being fatigued, overworked, feeling unsafe, overwhelmed, unsure about the way forward when our boundaries are set and clearly articulated. When someone crosses your boundaries, they are not respecting your feelings.
My husband Peter is a bit of a workaholic in our business. His mind never shuts off and at any time of the day, night or weekend, he will start to discuss a business idea with me. I have had to set boundaries, so he knows only to talk to me about work during our work week, Monday to Friday. He can still be creative and come up with ideas, but he can now write them down and discuss with me during the work week.
So now when he raises an idea on a Saturday morning walk, and I say stop, he remembers my boundaries, he is not offended and knows to capture that idea for Monday. I can continue with my walk, my mindfulness, and recharging of my batteries that I need to do for my own self-care. This is a simple boundary and works for me and Peter understands and respects it.
Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable and you may feel like you are controlling with your expectations. I would argue that setting boundaries are important for several reasons and particularly for your own well being and self-care. Setting boundaries is part of looking after yourself.