Think about your average workday.
Do your coworkers typically give you the space that you need to do your work? Are you interrupted while on the phone or working on a project? Does your manager or boss show respect in regard to your workload, or do you find extra projects being piled on top of what you already have to do?
Take some time to honestly evaluate how you interact with others at work. It’s easy to tell when people respect you and your space, just like it’s easy to tell when you’re being a pushover. If you spend some or all of your time feeling uncomfortable or disrespected, you likely have boundary issues that need to be addressed.
Defining Your Boundaries
If you want others to respect your boundaries, first you need to figure out exactly what those boundaries are.
Sit down and think about what others have done to make you uncomfortable at work and the point that you feel that things moved outside of your comfort zone. If necessary, you can start with vague boundaries and start narrowing them down as you add more details. Your goal is to create a list of well-defined boundaries, so don’ be afraid to get specific about your limits and the things that you don’t want coworkers to do.
Announce Your Boundaries
Once you have defined your boundaries, start calling them to the attention of your coworkers if they start to exceed your boundaries.
You don’t have to be aggressive or mean about this; simply call it to your colleagues’ attention and say you would prefer if they didn’t take that action. Be calm and patient with your explanation, answering any questions or responding to any comments that your coworker might have. It might seem odd to your coworker, especially if the action in question is something they’ve done numerous times in the past without comment; this is why you need to explain your boundary instead of simply saying that you don’t want your coworker to cross it anymore.
If the individual who crosses your boundary is your manager or other higher-up, the explanation may need to be a bit more delicate; after all, employees aren’t often in a position to dictate terms to their managers. This doesn’t mean that you should just take it if a manager or other member of the powers-that-be is mistreating you or abusing the power they have.
Explain yourself calmly, try to reach a common ground and don’t be afraid to consult someone in human resources if necessary.
Build a Solid Routine
Set aside a few minutes at the start of each workday to establish an agenda within the boundaries you’ve set. This doesn’t have to cover every minute of your day, but it should block out your time well enough that it’s easy to see what meetings you have, what major activities you plan to participate in and if you will have any free time within your day.
Assign approximate starting and ending times for everything on your agenda, and do your best to stick with them. By creating an agenda, those who would overstep your boundaries will have to work around the formal plan you have in place. If others insist on trying to interrupt, you can redirect them toward your next available free time so they’ll have to work within your agenda if they want to deal with you.
Expect Boundary Breaches
As you assert yourself more and structure your day to establish your boundaries, more of your coworkers will start to respect them and may even set boundaries of their own.
This doesn’t mean that occasional breaches won’t happen, however. Sometimes, they will be unavoidable; the realities of the workplace occasionally require you to do things outside of your regular routine. Other times, they will be the result of someone not thinking about your boundaries, often assuming that you’ll be willing to do something with no other thought.
You may even get the occasional intentional breach, but these will hopefully be few and far between. Regardless of periodic breaches, however, stick with the boundaries that you’ve set and you’ll find yourself happier and more productive in the long run.