When I worked as the manager of investor relations at a high tech software company, one day the controller strolled into my office and during our conversation he began to discuss how the CEO and CFO were cooking the books. I stopped him and said I didn’t want to know any more because I wouldn’t lie if I were ever subpoenaed. He left and needless to say that company no longer exists. I knew in that moment I needed to find another job and shortly thereafter my dream job fell into my lap.
I set a clear boundary with the controller. He’d stepped over my ethical line and I knew this was just the beginning of bad things to come unless I took clear and confident action to change it.
A boundary is a line you set that states: “this is my limit. Step on it or over it at your own peril.” That can sound ominous though. Boundaries need to be communicated clearly and without negative emotions such as anger, fear or resentment. They don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational and in fact it’s much easier to set them if you keep that in mind.
A boundary not only keeps you from harm, it helps you to grow and evolve. If, for example, you want to keep your workday to fewer than 14 hours then you may have to set a boundary. But how do you do that with your boss and still feel like your job is safe?
Communicate your needs in a non-emotional and a here-are-the-facts manner. You need to get your emotion out first so it doesn’t come out during the conversation. I suggest practicing what you want to say before you have the conversation with your boss. Then your boundary may sound something like this:
“I know we are still in a personnel crunch so overtime seems like the norm. However, next week I’ll be working my regular hours again. I know this is tough so I’d like to brainstorm with you how we can solve this problem without me working 14 hour days and burning out.”
That statement serves several purposes:
- It says you understand and acknowledge the current staffing situation.
- It conveys your clear boundary with professionalism, confidence and no emotion.
- It declares that you are offering to help solve the bigger problem (and nobody can argue with that).
Both parties come away feeling heard, acknowledged and understanding the clear boundary.
If you have a boss who isn’t a skilled leader, they might balk at this. Keep firm and keep your emotion out of it. A manipulative manager will “smell the fear” and instinctively try to get an emotional rise from you. Keep calm and acknowledge their response then reiterate your boundary (above) again. Use the same language. Most people have to hear your boundary 3 times before they actually hear and acknowledge it.
While a boundary is a limit it can often set you free to grow, be productive and happy.
Effective and non-emotional boundary setting can take a lot of practice. Keep at it!
Julie Hawkins is a women’s empowerment coach, psychic medium and author of the forthcoming book How to Say “No” Without Guilt: 5 Simple Steps to Eliminate Overwhelm, Reclaim Your Life and Have What You Want. For more information find her at www.juliehawkins.com.