In your relationships with your family or friends, or with your colleagues, there are so many different reasons you may need to draw a line in the sand. Communicating your boundaries can be a daunting prospect. Yet if you don’t speak up, you are letting people around you erode your self-respect, time and energy. In time, this is likely to have a negative impact on affected relationships and prevent you from performing at your best.  


How to set boundaries 

Boundaries are a way to take care of ourselves. When you understand how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, you can avoid the anger, resentment and disappointment that can develop out of feeling disrespected or taken advantage of. Here are seven pointers for establishing personal boundaries: 


1. First, do some self-examination 

You can’t communicate your boundaries if you don’t know what they are. If you want to be proactive, rather than reacting to unacceptable behaviour as it happens, some upfront self-work is essential. Maybe it’s to curb the way your family takes advantage of you, or to keep a firm limit between your work and home life, your boundaries will be founded in your personal beliefs, values, and passions. As you consider setting boundaries here are some things to think about: 

  • Revisit your core beliefs 

Core beliefs are a person’s most central ideas about themselves, others, and the world. These can be either positive or negative. For example: 

  • I should never hurt anyone’s feelings 
  • My boss always treats me unfairly 
  • Stealing is wrong  

Your most deeply held beliefs are so important to you that you will not compromise them in any area of your life.  

  • Examine your values 

Non-negotiable boundaries based on your personal values are defined by your priorities. To form appropriate boundaries in your life, start by making a list of your top priorities. For example, if family dinners are a priority, set a boundary that has you leaving work at a certain time every day. If it is a priority to keep fit, block off fixed hours each week in which you will exercise and will not answer your phone.  

  • Be mindful of your feelings 

For example: 

  • Are you resentful about being taken advantage of by your family or manager? 
  • Do you feel guilty saying no? 
  • Are you disappointed in yourself, finding yourself too agreeable as a way to avoid conflict? 


2. Communicate your boundaries clearly 

Be open, honest, and clear about your boundaries. You do not have to implement all your boundaries at once. Practice identifying, asking for and maintaining a boundary. Take note of what works, make any necessary adjustments and then add another boundary into the mix.  


3. Practice saying “no” 

Being able to politely say no will enable you to be more honest and authentic with others – and essential in maintaining personal boundaries. There may be times when your family or a colleague asks you to do something that is a boundary-breaker. Remember, it is perfectly okay to refuse unacceptable requests. For example, if you receive an invitation to attend a meeting during your lunch hour, it is okay to decline to attend so you can take a much-needed break. Here are three tips for saying no politely: 

  • Be straightforward 
  • Briefly explain yourself 
  • Offer an alternative option 


4. Bring up a boundary violation right away. 

When a boundary gets ignored, tackle the problem immediately. Clearly state the ways in which you want the boundary to be maintained. Do this as soon as possible, so that the person involved understands the relevance and importance. Most people are likely to be unaware of how their actions impact you and will appreciate being informed that they crossed a line. Focus on being kind in the way you tell people that your boundaries are not being respected. 


5. Focus on practical explanations 

Particularly when it comes to the breach of a boundary in the workplace, try to avoid responding from a personal or emotional perspective. For example, if your boss makes an unreasonable request, rather than saying, “I’m really stressed as I have too much to do today,” frame your explanation in terms of how it is going to affect the completion of the day’s tasks or will impact a client. For example, “If I spend my time on A, there won’t be enough time to complete B.” 


6. Keep your stance 

No means no. By allowing the fall of a boundary or giving in and changing your answer from “no” to “yes,” you will not only lose credibility, but you will also give people latitude to coerce you again in the future. It is okay to be resolute and stand by your decision. By standing firm, those around you will respect you and understand they can’t steamroller you into doing what they want. 


7. Respect others 

It is important to respect other people’s boundaries while maintaining your own. For example, ascertaining what your boss and co-workers’ boundaries are, and respecting them, will encourage them to do the same. If it is not evident from their behaviour or work patterns, consider asking them outright if they have any limitations in place.  



Establishing boundaries at work 

Setting boundaries at work is one of the best ways to protect yourself from feeling frustrated, undervalued or overworked. When you decide to implement boundaries, remember that feeling uncomfortable at first is okay. The more experience you have in maintaining boundaries, and the more you experience the positive outcomes, the more it becomes second-nature. Here are three examples of setting boundaries at work: 


  • Setting workload boundaries 

It can feel very difficult to talk to your boss about your heavy workload. Your inclination could be to second-guess yourself, and question, “Am I working hard enough or efficiently?” Remember, feeling overworked does not mean that you are an inferior employee. When establishing workload boundaries, it is important to understand the tasks that make up your workload, the time they each take and the number of duties you can reasonably handle in a day. This can help you establish a regular working pace and help you when approaching your boss to set reasonable expectations for your role.  


  • Setting boundaries with your co-workers 

Setting healthy boundaries at work means taking responsibility for your own work and outcomes. It means helping colleagues to solve their own problems, without taking over their responsibilities. Maintaining clear boundaries with co-workers can safeguard your time and energy and will increase job fulfilment. Common consequences of a lack of boundaries with co-workers include: 

  • Taking on the workloads of others 
  • Blurring the lines between your work and personal hours 
  • Increased gossip in the workplace 


  • Setting project boundaries with the team 

Setting boundaries is particularly important when dealing with a group project or assignment. Make sure to set clear expectations at the start of the project to prevent any problems down the line. For example, clearly assign who is doing what. Then, for ongoing reference, create a shared document that outlines project roles, deadlines, and timelines. 


Establish boundaries in your personal life 

Be sure to establish and maintain your boundaries in your personal life, just as you would at work. When it comes to family members, the nature of healthy boundaries depends on family values and overall family dynamics.  


  • Establishing boundaries with family 

Whether they are your parents, in-laws, siblings or extended family, difficult family members can negatively affect your mental health. Should certain family members be overbearing, rigid boundaries may be needed for your psychological wellbeing. If family members are respectful and considerate, your boundaries may be more flexible. In the face of pushback, remember you are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. Never apologise for communicating your needs. You are setting boundaries to respect who you are, in support of the best interests of the relationship.  



  • Establishing boundaries for children 

Children need to know what you expect of them. Consistency is key. This helps them to understand what constitutes appropriate behaviour and helps to set the tone for a child’s emotional development. Further benefits of healthy boundaries include: 

  • Helping the child feel safe and secure 
  • Alleviating a child’s natural tendency toward entitlement  
  • Encouraging the child to learn healthy limits 
  • Supporting the child in getting ready for the real world 
  • Helping the child to learn healthy socialising 


One valuable way coaching helps people is by helping them to see themselves more clearly. A coach can provide the space and structure that is necessary for reflection, to gain deeper insight into the positive beliefs, core values and passions that inform your boundaries – as well as developing effective communication skills to put them into effect.  

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

What are your thoughts on setting personal boundaries at work and at home? 

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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