Asserting Your Boundaries at Work

It is hard to see the good in others if they have been taking advantage of your hard work ethic. It’s difficult to change the “rules” of who does what, when you’ve been accepting the work of others, because everyone “assumes” that you’re just better at it. Why rock the boat, right? Except you’ve just about had it. Going to work is not joyful, and you may feel a palpable cloud descend when you go to work. So, what can you do to change the dynamics? Re-examine your job description to make sure you’re being paid for what you do in a typical day. Did you know based on your gender, there may also be miscommunication going on between you, your co-workers and your boss?

Re-Set Your Boundaries

Write Out Who Does What

  1. Make a list of the tasks you are required to do based on your job description, and any recent performance evaluations you’ve received.
  2. Make a second list of the tasks that have been added since you accepted your job, that are not a part of your job description.
  3. Make a third list of the tasks you’ve taken on that are other’s responsibility.

Set Your Intention

  1. Make a fourth list of what tasks fit your job description that also incorporates what you’ve agreed to do in writing or verbally with your boss.
  2. Look at your fourth list and put an asterisk (*) by the tasks you verbally agreed to do—and decide if these tasks are up for negotiation.

Why? In your contract you work X number of hours a day, the tasks you perform should match your position, and should be able to be fit within the hours you work each day. If you are over-tasked, then it’s time to renegotiate your terms.

  1. Decide what the best approach is for your workplace to renegotiate your terms.

This is where you are going to discuss face-to-face the discrepancies between what you do, and what you are paid to do. This is where you say, “I haven’t minded helping you do (your) work in the past, but I have to re-focus on my responsibilities and priorities.” This is where you offer to train them on what you have been doing for them, but then you return the responsibility to them. You may request a meeting via email, but it is best to re-negotiate in person.  Take your lists and a written agenda with you to clarify the boundaries you are redefining. Choose what’s best for you, a:

  1. Formal meeting with you and your boss.
  2. Informal meeting with you and your boss.
  3. Formal meeting with you and your co-worker.
  4. Informal meeting with you and your co-worker.

When you’re figuring out the best approach, remember to be tactful not accusatory. You either prefer to communicate in a passive-aggressive style or passive style. The best form of communication is assertive—when you are able to be open, honest, forth-right, tactful, and the other person is able to stay on the same page as you while you’re communicating.

Non-Verbals Count Too!

Pay attention to if you are slouching, avoiding eye contact (your culture and race also affect what’s appropriate or the norm), mumbling, fidgeting, using too much hand movement—it all affects how the other person interprets what you’re verbally saying to them.

When I help my clients identify how to get what they want at work using Dr. John Gray’s Mars Venus Coaching system based on goal setting, 90 day plans, and understanding relationship dynamics they are often surprised and amazed at how being cognizant of gender communication dynamics at play helps them set and keep their boundaries when they interact with others at work.

Gender Differences in Communicating

Typically…Men prefer to communicate to solve problems.

                 …Women prefer to communicate to connect with others.

If a man feels attacked or threatened, based on the wiring in his brain he will do 1 of 2 things, because an increase in stress causes him to be more single-task oriented:

  1. He will either fight back if he thinks he knows the answer or can solve the problem.
  2. He will remove himself from the situation, disengage, and ignore the problem until he has unwound and then figures out how to solve the problem (or continues to ignore the situation, because it is not a big enough “problem” yet for him).

If a woman feels attacked or threatened, based on the wiring in her brain she will do 1 of 2 things, because an increase in stress causes more cross-talk between the left and right hemispheres of her brain:

  1. She will want to talk it out, ask questions, connect to others to make sure everyone is okay. She may not necessarily resolve the issue, she’s just talking to better understand the situation and all the dynamics at play.
  2. She will become more emotional, because blood flow in her brain is making her respond to how the issue will affect everyone else good or bad.

Knowing these tendencies, women can approach men by presenting a problem with a solution already present, i.e. the list of tasks you agree to be responsible for, offering to re-train co-worker, and justification for redefining job description. In turn men can approach women, i.e. with a list of tasks open for negotiating knowing they may need to discuss all the dynamics, with an answer not necessarily a part of this discussion, but forthcoming if she’s given a chance to connect first with you as a person. These are generalities, but they help identify how a request for redefining boundaries may be taken by other’s in your workplace as you set about assertively renegotiating your job.

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd

Mars Venus Coaching

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