The Power of Setting Healthy BoundariesApril 23, 2012 | By Wayne O'Neill
Have you ever wanted to draw a line with people in your life and say “Do NOT cross this line!” On the other hand, have you ever had to cross the line or work around someone’s boundary in order to make progress in a relationship, business and organization? How can you set healthy boundaries and also maneuver around boundaries without destroying relationships personally or professionally?
According to clinical psychologists, Dr. John Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in their book, Boundaries: When to say YES, When to say NO; to Take Control of Your Life, having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. They describe overly flexible boundaries (unwillingness to say no, always accommodating others’ needs) and overly rigid boundaries (to the point of being righteous and judgmental) as having harmful effects on the individual and those with whom they interact.
Problems arise when you fail to communicate your needs and wants and when you blame others for your disappointments. When boundaries are unclear, frustration mounts as you are unsure of how to resolve the problem. When your boundaries are crossed, it is usually a result of your personal unwillingness to state or enforce what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. You think that by avoiding conflict, you will keep everyone happy or everyone will like you if you do their work for them. You may be a perfectionist and do other people’s jobs because you don’t trust that they will get the job done in the time frame that you desire or accomplish the task with excellence. What actually happens when you cross boundaries is that resentment builds and your team becomes dysfunctional and divisive. On the other hand, the rewards of identifying and setting healthy boundaries have transformative power in your life. In our experience as a team and in working with clients, healthy communication regarding boundaries brings hidden issues to the surface so they can be resolved. This builds an atmosphere of respect which promotes healthy and more productive collaboration.
Boundaries used to be clearer in the days when people had desks, 9 to 5 work days, seniority, and a set chain of command. Businesses closed at 5:00 o’clock on Friday, did not open again until Monday morning and were not open on holidays. But times have changed. With cell phones, iPhones, wireless internet, laptops, iPads, and other technology, comes more flexibility plus an intermingling of work and play. You may “clock-out” of work, only to turn your computer back on once you get home. You may take work-related calls in the evenings or weekends. More people work from home and only wear “business attire” when meeting with clients or in team meetings. In some industries, interruptions and working after hours are essential to doing global business or working as a systems administrator.
How do you set boundaries in our 24/7 world? One way to start drawing boundaries is to give yourself some guidelines.
- Work hard during work time and set time to play. If your brain knows that you will leave work at five o’clock to play, it will let you stay focused on work all day until then.
- If you work at home, create a separate work space area and even change clothes when you start and finish working.
- Turn off your cell phone at a certain time when your work day is done or between certain hours so you can give your undivided attention to your spouse or significant person in your life.
- Limit email during “off hours.” Important people in your life personally and professionally become irritated if they are constantly being placed on “hold” or conversations are continually interrupted with calls, texting or emails.
- If you are invited to a business dinner and social time, set your boundary that you need to leave by a certain time in order to still do some work and be ready for the next day or spend time with your family.
According to psychologist, Dana Gionta, Ph.D., good nutrition and exercise are very important and help us defer the visible signs of aging, but identifying and setting clear, consistent boundaries at home, at work and with yourself will do wonders for your complexion and overall quality of life. (Psychology Today, “What Can Flowers Teach Us About Boundaries?” May 18, 2008)
When everyone on your team understands what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, then team members feel safe in their roles and function effectively, even in the absence of the team leader. Organizations function smoothly when the team leader clearly defines boundaries and workplace behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable. Team members need to know that it is safe to bring up issues but also have a responsibility to express concerns in a healthy manner that seeks to find a resolution that works for the whole team.
When setting workplace boundaries, consider these questions and approaches:
1. What do you need to be effective? job description, deadlines, clear directions, lead time, identification of priorities, time to be creative, …
2. How can you communicate your needs assertively without being aggressive, abrasive or passive aggressive? Assertive means talking honestly, openly and proactively focused on desired behaviors. All the other types of communication may reach a short term goal but will never build a strong, cohesive, highly productive team.
3. How can setting boundaries be beneficial? Leadership teams are most productive when the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, effectively communicated, and consistently enforced.
4. When someone crosses boundaries, how should it be handled so that each person feels respected? Meet in person with the one who crossed your boundaries to discuss differences and reach agreements. Engage in healthy discourse regarding needs, roles, responsibilities, performance, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Try to understand the other person’s needs, interests and concerns. Frame your comments to be respectful, tactful and diplomatic. Strive to negotiate win-win solutions.
Whether you work in a traditional or nontraditional work environment, setting workplace boundaries or interpersonal boundaries can be transforming. Rather than feeling like a slave to your job or a door mat to your team, setting healthy boundaries can improve communication, build respect, and increase collaboration within your team which results in greater productivity. In our 24/7 work world, succeed by communicating your boundaries.