It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superwoman! While it might be flattering to hear these words applied to yourself, chances are you're having problems with boundaries if you are perceived as someone who can leap over mountains of work in a single bound. Since boundaries help you to set limits, engage in acceptable workplace behavior and get healthy emotional space, recognizing them and enforcing them can help you to be more effective on the job while still maintaining your sanity.
Clarify your responsibilities when asked to do tasks outside your job description. While it is often a career-booster to go beyond the call of duty, it is unwise to accept work that keeps you from accomplishing the job for which you have been hired. Try saying, "I'd like to help you with that, John, but it's important that I focus my attention on getting quotes for our clients." Likewise, speak up if you've been given a task that is seemingly impossible, advises career coach Maureen Moriarty.
Tell people when their behavior violates your personal boundaries. Sexual harassment is common, with one in four women having been subjected to this behavior in the workplace. Have a creepy co-worker hanging around expressing his appreciation for your well-tailored trousers? Tell him he'd best keep his fashion commentary to himself -- it's completely appropriate to say this to him.
Keep your communications professional in nature. Gossiping about colleagues, over-sharing details about your hot date last night or telling off-color jokes all have the potential to violate other people's boundaries and hurt your professional credibility.
Respect other people's space and let them know when they violate yours. Avoid listening in on other people's conversations. Resist the urge to take things from other people's spaces, even if you really need that stapler. Firmly tell others that the stash of chocolate in your desk is strictly off-limits.
Communicate openly and honestly. Maintaining appropriate boundaries means that others don't have to guess when they've overstepped their bounds. If you don't want to lend your perpetually broke colleague $10 for lunch yet again, tell her. Jokingly say, "You're going to have to start bringing your own money -- you've drained my account!"
Use social networks cautiously. Writing, "Anyone who votes for (insert name of hated politician here) should be shot" brings your personal opinions into the workplace if you have "friends" who are also colleagues. Avoid blurring the line by either posting uncontroversial updates or keeping your "friends" list pared down to friends outside of work.
Maintain your mental health by recognizing that you'll never be able to change other people's unhealthy behaviors, advise authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend, authors of "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life." Never internalize another person's behaviors or opinion of you.
- University of California -- San Francisco: Setting Healthy Workplace Boundaries
- ABC News: One in Four U.S. Women Reports Workplace Harassment
- Pathways to Change: Workplace Coach -- Setting & Keeping Boundaries
- "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life"; Henry Cloud and John Townsend
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images