Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Updated: May 7, 2020

Strategies to Ward off Workplace Bullies, Bad Bosses, and Energy Vampires

"Do not let people dump their garbage all over you. Likewise, try not to dump on other people."

Have you ever seen an episode of Mad Men? This show is so well-written that even though (we)the viewer are not there; we feel all the sensations as if we were. We hear the office buzzing with the sound of typewriters. We smell the strong aroma of coffee, laced with the usual fragrance of bourbon. And our energy, along with that of the entire building, is almost always dependent on the mood of Don Draper (the boss).

Many people have had a boss like Don; although probably not as good looking, sigh. The dominant, arrogant type who can make you go from crying to feeling like you are on top of the world in an instant. Human beings naturally absorb the energy of those around us, a trait that is heightened in an office culture. Even when we work remotely, we can feel a person’s energy through the phone or video screen.

In the workplace there are typically three sorts of people who emit the most amount of negative energy. These are the office bullies, bad bosses, and energy vampires. Other than drawing a circle of salt around yourself, the best way to combat them is by establishing clear and firm boundaries.

Here are some ways to do this:

1. Know Your Values

People will step all over you if you do not know who you are and what you will stand for. Think about what is important to you and what you are willing to tolerate from others. Once you figure this out, it will be easier to start establishing boundaries.

2. Know the Difference Between Venting and Dumping

A very insightful book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, speaks to the difference between venting and dumping. The key difference is that venting feels healthy and is time limited, while dumping goes on an on, often repeating the same point and blaming others.

Do not let people dump their garbage all over you. Likewise, try not to dump on other people.

3. Protect Your Time

Time is the most precious currency on the planet. Set clear rules with your time. My business coach recommended a great trick; to put something on my office door while I am working. Now that my four-year-old son is home with me, I place a pink posted-note on my office door, which tells him I am working and not to come in. For the most part this has worked.

Decide how you want to set your time limits and you will be much more productive.

4. Set up your “Zen” space

Create a calming and clean workspace. Avoid clutter and display images and items that feel serene. A great way to keep from feeling overwhelmed is to organize this area so that everything has a place.

5. Don’t Get Emotional

If someone is monopolizing your time or worse, belittling you in front of others, do not allow yourself to get emotional. This is truly a skill that requires effort to master. Emotionally remove yourself from the situation by imagining you are a spectator looking in. If you need time to settle your emotions before responding, do it. Never fight fire with fire.

6. Limit Conversation

The best way to set boundaries with a negative person is to limit conversation, also known as “setting silent limits.” Be polite, but don’t engage in a long, drawn out conversation. If the individual doesn’t get the hint, let them know that you are working and need to focus. This is usually enough to cement your boundaries and they will find someone else to gab to.

What to do When Boundaries are Repeatedly Crossed

1. Communicate- Don’t stew over your worker’s actions. Bring it to their attention (set verbal limits) and let them know your boundaries, so they understand they have crossed a line with you.

2. Reiterate Boundaries- Reiterate your boundaries if they continue to be crossed. Also, begin documenting the issues so you can reference specific dates and times. This will come in handy if things escalate and you need to bring in HR.

3. Ask Your Manager for Guidance- Unless your manager is the one you have the issue with, seek guidance from them. You may need to ask them to mediate. If your manager is the problem, talk to HR. You can ask them for recommendations without launching a formal complaint. If you do file a complaint, be specific about the bad behavior and how it affected you.

4. Think About Leaving (Last resort)- If the problems are severe and unable to be resolved, think about finding another job. While there are issues in every work environment, you should not dread going into work every day. If you work for a company with a culture of bad behavior, it is probably time to get your resume together.

Although setting boundaries can be difficult, doing so will help you to be more productive and will allow you to surround yourself with positive people. During your career you will encounter plenty of individuals who will test your limits, as well as your patience. How you respond will shape your professional reputation. Instead of being the victim, use these situations as moments to grow and you will solidify yourself as a force to be reckoned with.

Inspiration of the Day: "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion." Dale Carnegie

Shannon Slack helps her clients craft irresistible resumes and establish career paths. For more tips or if you would like to work with me click below:

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