Blog by Angela Armstrong, author of The Resilience Club
By definition, a boundary is something we deem to be OK or not OK for us and these play a key role in shaping our life rules and decision-making. Managing the demands on our time is a core skill for managing our resilience. A lack of boundaries can quickly lead to overwork and burnout but if we take the time to assess each request at the source, we become more deliberate about what we say ‘yes’ to, more motivated to complete the tasks in hand and it makes us more reliable professionally and more grounded emotionally.
Even if we know our own boundaries, people are not telepathic so we need to know how to communicate these effectively. Similarly, setting boundaries is one thing but keeping to these when other people would like us to behave differently is another. This article will show you that it is ok to say ‘no’ and having boundaries is not selfish, because when we are aligned and protect our renewal time, we have much more energy to contribute to others.
Establishing your boundaries
Setting boundaries, first requires you to be aware of what values are most important to you. A simple method to discover your values is by thinking about a situation in which you felt joyous and another that you had a strongly negative response to. For example you might discover that health and fairness are two of your values. You can then experiment with different boundaries, that reflect your values to make decision-making simpler and faster.
Communicating your boundaries
When communicating your boundaries to others it can be informative to frame them as an expression of your values so that they know why it’s important to you to have the boundary in place.
For example, maintaining outstanding mental health is a priority for me, so I do not check email from 7pm to 7am on weekdays. Expressing your values in this way indicates that you’re considered about what commitments you take on and self-aware enough to balance multiple demands on your time. It also reduces future requests that compromise your boundary and prompts creativity for finding another solution.
When we say ‘no’ to others, we often feel as if we have to add a caveat or explanation to justify our decision but this is not always required; ‘No’ is a full sentence in its own right. To protect your values and build your resilience you could offer an alternative option that uses less of your resources by employing the 80/20 rule and offering to resolve the part that only you can do.
Saying ‘no’ to tasks recognises that you know in which areas your talents are best contributed, are able to express your opinion professionally and you are disciplined to reliably meet the commitments you already have rather than spreading yourself too thinly and underperforming. If you always say ‘yes’, eventually it will be taken for granted.
Some promotion panels will choose not to promote someone until they are able to say ‘no’ constructively. To help you to say no, try to create a delay so you can consider your response. Think about whether the task is a good fit for your abilities and priorities – what are the long-term benefits? What is the minimum effort you can use or what resources are available? Is the time right for you to help?. When you respond offer the headline points that you have considered, try and negotiate timings or show alternatives that could help them and clearly articulate exactly which of your boundaries are non-negotiable.
When you are in tune with what motivates you, your skills and your boundaries, you can passionately say ‘hell,yes’ to opportunities that fill you with energy. Even if effort is required that effort is offset by being in flow with your time and talents and results come more easily.
Feel comfortable asking for help
An organisation is made up of lots of people with different psychological preferences and aptitudes. When each person focuses on their strengths they are able to add the most value with the least amount of effort and avoid unnecessary stress. So to make fast and efficient progress don’t be afraid to collaborate with others who have complementary strengths. Asking for help does not make you needy or incapable, it shows you care about the tasks being completed to a high standard. When you ask for support, you tacitly give others permission to ask you for help at a later date thereby cultivating meaningful relationships.
Setting boundaries helps you to feel more comfortable asking for support when you need it, you build your self-respect and can invest your time and energy in the areas in which you add most value so everyone in the workplace benefits.