Boundaries Liberate You!

 “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” ~ Brené Brown.

STOP asking why they keep doing it?

START asking why you keep allowing it?

“How could he have said such a thing?”

“What did you say?”

“Why did you do that?”

…. ring a bell?

If these are your feelings, then correct yourself first. How someone treats you is more your responsibility. If you had set boundaries in the first place, you have shown others how you want to be treated.

While sociability is a good thing, being social within those limits is better. It leads to lesser stress and more fulfilling lives. Boundaries can be physical and tangible or emotional and intangible. They need not necessarily be rational to others, so long as they are to you. It helps you understand and identify your physical and personal limits in life, the challenges that you can and want to take on.

While boundaries are important to guard one self with, one has to respect other people’s boundaries too. It works only if all parties honor it. This is easily achieved if the leader sets the parameters by not overstepping his limits and infringing onto others’. If the leader does not take this upon oneself, ensure you do it yourself. That’s your insurance for a happy life.

“You get what you allow”

How does setting boundaries help you at the workplace?

Boundaries help you establish acceptable workplace behavior. It is beneficial to one and all as it helps everyone understand each other’s ‘limits and stretches’ in decision-making, problem solving and enhancing work productivity.

  • Defines Roles
  • Enhances Productivity
  • Effective Communication
  • Discourages Inappropriate Behavior
  • Encourages harmonious relationships

Where and how do you set boundaries?

Just as workplace boundaries are important, personal boundaries are too. Better relationships at work, at home, among friends, and in public are enabled when you prioritize setting boundaries.

Boundaries are to do with how much work you want to take on, your ambitions at work, your preferences on work-home-balance and your opinions on socializing, relationships and friendships.

 And, not being judgmental about those whose boundaries, that are not similar to yours.

First and foremost are the Physical boundaries. The hugs, pat on shoulder, winks, the proximity and touch that define your personal space. What follows next is your Personal Boundaries at home. Your values, interests and likes-dislikes that have to be respected at all times. (These require timely adaptations once you are in a relationship with someone, get married, add the extended families, have children and so on) With Work place boundaries, your boundaries come a full circle. At work, it is your time, work-load, targets, goals that have to be in sync with those of your boss, subordinates and colleagues. It is thus advised that rather than a clash of boundaries it has to be a seamless blend of one another’s.

 Few examples of Boundaries

My Time – My Space – My Life

Do you need a Persona makeover?

You may need to make changes in body language and adapt to newer habits if you have never set boundaries before but you will transform to a newer, efficient and better you.

Handle Humor with Care What is funny to one may not be funny to some one else. Yet developing a good taste in healthy humor helps reduce tensions, and also works as a smooth tool to convey difficult messages. Remember, respecting one another and one another’s boundaries is the key.

People Pleasers are usually the ones who don’t set any boundaries. Sadly, beginners tend to take on more by taking on an overload of work and doing everybody else’s work. Being proactive to bring in innovative methods that are visible, being an enthusiastic employee with individuality and intelligence is a better alternative in the long run.

                    Top Reasons to be a People Pleaser
We have not figured out our boundaries-go with the flow
People want to be liked. Desire to avoid conflict
People want to be part of the gang. We receive praise
People want to fit in. Learnt it from childhood
Our self worth is tied to help others Want to help others but don’t want to be helped
People want to shine amongst the many, and not standout for the wrong reasons.

Continue to be sociable A common misconception is that people who are defined by their own set of boundaries are reserved, introverted and uptight. – qualities that are not associated to being amiable and friendly. They are perceived as being defensive and dogmatic. No.

Being sociable helps you implement your boundaries better. A sociable person smoothly resolves conflict as he can express his boundaries with clarity, listen to needs of others and can understand people’s perspectives better. Establishing visible boundaries portrays you as one with discipline and gains respect from others. Unnecessary intruding of space is thus taken care of.

When I worked in a multi national bank on a flexi-time role, there was a crisis and my team Lead, Rahul announced that he required all of us to stay back. (I was scheduled to leave at 2.00 pm) While my fellow flexi-time colleagues, all with 3-6 year old kids, were worrying about how to get the kid home and endless chores, I was very calm. Priti, my colleague queried, Surya, how come you are not worried?

I smilingly said,” Rahul will go to school, pick up my son, take him home, give him his bath, lunch, make him sleep, wake him up at 4.00 pm, feed him, make him do his homework, take him to tennis class, prepare dinner..”

Rahul who was standing by and listening to all this immediately laughed out aloud and said, all the flexi-time moms please go!!

Boundaries established – Sociability Traits displayed

 How to establish boundaries?

It is never too late to establish boundaries. Any time is a good time to start. Establishing boundaries is a step-by-step process. It is open to change, it is possible to add/delete and it need not be announced verbally or quoted from any set of rules and regulations.

Many a time, your body language communicates your boundaries. Your communication and the tone in which you say, clarifies the boundaries that define you. For people who feel they are meek, submissive, lack in assertiveness and are hesitant to convey, they have to learn to say no or yes as they feel. It may be difficult at first but one has to start.

Once you make a start, it is easier for you as well as less difficult the next time. You gain respect from the other and self-respect from yourself, which encourages you to continue.

How many times have you had a colleague of the opposite sex hover over your shoulder, and type something on your keyboard or move the mouse pad on your laptop whilst you are still sitting?

The first time someone did so, I said, “Wait a minute, make your self comfortable. Pushed myself out and got up.”

Amid protests of it is okay, takes just a minute. Some of you maybe okay with it, some of you may not be okay with it. But I made it clear that I was not comfortable. Simple. No accusations of anything. It was not anything, yet I was not comfortable and I made clear my boundaries. I do not like physical proximity.

I would have done it for a person of the same sex too. I was not rude, merely stating that the other person can be more comfortable. Respect that person, and preserve yours. It may sound silly to some, hardly anything to some but history proves that silent consent unknowingly starts for sexual harassment at work place.

Perhaps the Stage 1 People Pleaser?

Simplest boundary here is the courtesy of “May I?”

 Remember to follow the mantra of

Concurrence, Collaboration and Consensus.


Building boundaries take time and practice. They may be crossed, sidestepped, over-ruled. Allow it sometimes depending on how important and/or the situation. But view it not as violations or negatives but as an opportunity to gain insight, review them and retain or improvise them. Remember that you are not diluting and letting go every time.

As a Visiting Faculty, there were few occasions, when just as I finished my scheduled classes, I was requested to take on an extra class due to some emergency. Although I always had a fixed timetable kind of setting for my household chores etc, I concurred. Later I came to know that the ‘emergency’ was another faculty who had intimated his/her leave well in advance or a conference the full time faculty was scheduled to go.

I realized that knowing well in time that the slot was coming up, the Coordinator could have mailed in advance and requested any of the Visiting Faculty members if they needed an extra class, instead of asking me to just fill in. Since I was going in at the last minute neither would I have a concrete lesson plan and would just spend the hour discussing current affairs or open up a debate etc.

So the next time, the coordinator popped up this kind of request, I very politely refused. This happened a few times, after which he stopped using me as a last minute prop!! Yet if he asked in advance, and I needed the class I would take it.

Boundaries set by concurrence, collaboration and consensus is either natural or taught for the disorganized and unlearned!! But set it please, else you would be taken for granted. If not, it results in loss of respect. Time and again its been proved that a people pleaser is given scant respect and utilized more as ‘use-and-throw’.

Many a time, especially in marriages and at homes, conflicts increase when the mother/wife establishes rules. Rules would have broken when she took a break during childbirth and initial years of the kids’ entry. Re-establishing them becomes impossible when you have let them go for a long time. This happens a lot for work-from-home moms and homemakers. Most of the time, avoiding conflict at home (in front of the kids) leads to ‘people-pleaser’ by the lady which leads to low self esteem, inner conflict and loss of self respect.

Nobody likes a whiny person or an arrogant one! The ability to concur when required, collaborate and review based on consensus holds the key to establishing boundaries towards effective inter personal relationships. Focus on concrete rather than personal explanations. The more you delay the more difficult it becomes to regain your lost space.

While being emotional is not healthy, taking cognizance of your emotions is. Acting with emotional intelligence is helpful. Act without resentment, personal animosity, fear, self-doubt and guilt.

To be assertive goes in sync in establishing boundaries. Let your boundaries liberate you rather than fence you in. Strike the right balance!

Valuable Nudges

  • Accepting that you cannot please all
  • Not apologizing for saying “No”
  • Be open minded – Respond contextually to the request
  • Communicate reasons clearly without sounding defensive
  • Offer alternate solutions, if required
  • Use of “power words” and polite language
  • Limit work conversations to defined topics
  • Move out of the collegial atmosphere and get professional
  • Practice emotional intelligence

To be popular by perception, to be defined sportive, to be liked by all and in short, the people pleaser and setting boundaries don’t always go together. One has to be clear as to whether you want your respect and be liked for you who you are, for the work you bring to the table or fit into the ‘am indispensable’ title. At work. At home.

Everyone has to introspect and define one’s own priorities before embarking on this exercise.

Wrap up Wisdom

  • Prioritize your values
  • Pay attention to your feelings
  • Communicate clearly
  • Bring up a boundary violation immediately
  • Focus on real time explanations
  • Be prepared for boundary violations

Your boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choice.

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