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3 ways to stop boundary violators at work

Beware the boundary violators - we all know them, the space invaders and the time suckers. They waste your time, make you feel uncomfortable and seem to make you say and do things you don’t want to.

 A lot of people have issues with setting and maintaining boundaries with others. Boundaries are the physical, mental and emotion ‘line’ between us and other people. Some people’s boundaries are too rigid and they push people away and some are too sloppy and this allows other people to violate their boundaries and get into their personal space. The good news is that once you are aware you can do something to enforce your boundaries and teach others to treat you appropriately. Here’s some top tips:

1. Get to know your boundaries. This may sound obvious but it’s quite normal for people not to know this. You only know when someone has violated them because it doesn’t feel right or you end up wasting time on something that’s not important. What’s OK for you and what’s not? Be clear on what you think is appropriate behaviour in the workplace.

2. Develop behavioural cues that give people the message you want to convey, for example:

Stepping towards someone who is being aggressive or angry will assert your position and stop them in their tracks

  • Use a hand gesture that signals this conversation is finishing
  • Use a voice tone or set of words that signals this conversation is finished
  • By developing consistent cues, people will soon unconsciously learn them without you having to verbally tell them

If you are speaking to someone at your desk and the phone rings - do you answer it? The covert message you give is that you pay attention to what is most important, so if you pick up the phone you are telling the person at your desk that the call is more important than them - is this the message you want to give? There’s no right or wrong just make sure you are giving the message you intend. 

3. Maintain relationships by respecting other people, even if they are violating your boundaries. Rather than just cutting them off, find kind ways to tell them. For example Someone is chatting at your desk and you have work to do. ‘It’s lovely to see you. I have some urgent things I need to get done right now, maybe we can catch up over lunch sometime?’

Someone is using inappropriate language about you or a work colleague. ‘I get that you are upset about this. I feel uncomfortable with the language you are using and can’t respond when you talk in this way. Can we talk about this later when we’re both a bit calmer?’

Someone is asking you questions about your personal life at work. ‘I’m fascinated that you’re so interested in my boring old life. As we’re working right now, let’s instead talk about [something work related]’

People will react to you setting boundaries at first, you might get labelled as ‘boring’ or ‘no fun’ but that's just because they can’t play their games with you any more. Be consistent and keep going, start with small things if you’re concerned about how other people will react and over time you will be able to set effective boundaries with others and never be invaded again.

For more hints and tip about setting strong boundaries, we highly recommend the book Difficult People made Easy by Eleanor Shakiba, which is available on Amazon Learning NLP will help you develop these skills whilst integrating them into your personality so that you are congruent and authentic.

Download a free first chapter of Karen and John’s award winning book which is packed with advice for Leaders on boundaries, Real Leaders for the Real World.


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