How Do I Set Better Boundaries?
We are hearing from a lot of you that there are lots of messy boundaries happening during the COVID crisis. Some of you are having trouble with work that has cut back your pay but still expects you to deliver the same work results. Many of you are adjusting to working from home with roommates, family members, kids, needy pets and the distractions of the house (news, laundry, home schooling, family and friends happy hour webinars, etc.). Additionally, women often take on more than their share of the housework. With more people at home, there is more to be done. While housework goes up, work is also going up as companies ramp up transition plans, set webinars (the new meeting-that-could-have-been-an-email), and double up on employee communication. And on top of all that, there are physical boudaries being imposed for health reasons. For some of you, you crave interaction and it's hard to remember to maintain the physical boundaries. For others your primary concern is health and you are vigilant about maintaining a safe distance no matter what. With all of these new and unique challenges, it is important to set boundaries for yourself so that you have the space to be the best you - at work, at home and when you are out and about. But how do you keep those boundaries for yourself while mainting a good relationship with those around you?
It's important to know what your boundaries are. If you drew a box around that interaction or task, where are you in the box and what do the lines represent? For physical distance, is 6 feet the right distance for you? For housework, which tasks or how much time can you dedicate to the housework? Same for your work. If you are being paid for half of your previous full-time job, will you have a hard cut off at 20 hours? Or will you allow some flexibility?
As for work space at home, what does your ideal work space look like? For example, what if you set time and space boundaries: you work uninterupted during the hours of 8am - 11am, break at noon for one hour, then allow your family 3 interuptions between 1pm and 5pm? Stake your claim in a part of the house you can dedicate to work tasks (the garage, a big closet, the kitchen between eating hours).
When assessing your boundaries, it is important to know what your limits are - physically, emotionally, and mentally. Listen to your body for it's food, water and sleep needs. Also notice what your body does before it sets off (does you stomach get tight, do you clench your fists). Let your body tell you when and where it gets triggered. This will help you identify which boundaries are important for you to maintain. Thinking these through and knowing where your boundaries are allows you to set them in a calmer sate of mind.
It is also important to know how to set your boundaries. Settting boundaries well takes a lot of practice. You may not get this right for a while but this is a great time to practice. Imagine if you came out of all of this with a healthier sense of self and balance.
Setting boudnaries requires beng assertive. The difference between assertive and agressive is that one is speaking up calmly and the other is speaking out against the other person. It takes a while to learn the difference and the nuance of being assertive without hurting others. Be patient with yourself and start with small things. Maybe try being assertive with your pets first :)
A big part of being assertive is remembering that your opinion, needs, and wants are important. You are valualable and that is more important than the hurt feelings of others. Sometimes people find it helpful to stick up for others. Think of yourself as someone else that you would stick up for and then use that courage to say something for yourself.
How should you say it? There are so many tips on how to do it - use I statements (I feel uncomfortable when you....), use questions (can we agree....), use requests (I have a request from you...). Don't say "no". Say what you can do instead. For example, if the boss wants the project done this week. Let them know what you are finishing this week and what date you can get it done by next week. Sage advice also says to look people in the eye and smile or have a "soft face" when setting a boundary. It humanizes the experience for both of you. And use an assertive tone and voice. Assertive voices are calm, clear and "stating" or "asking". Agressive language is elevated, fearful, judgemental and "telling".
Another important tip is setting the boundaries before you need them. Have discussions with your boss on priroties with what if scenarios. Talk to your family or roomates about how to you should handle the physcial space and the household tasks if someone in the house gets sick. Find out what your medical benefits are with your company before you need them and ask your HR deparment if you uneed clarification.
Use any and all of these tips. However, you have to use what feels right to you. So start small, experiment with how to do it until it starts to feel better. Then do more of what is working and what feels right for you.
When setting and imposing boundaries, practice makes perfect. But you can also use mutually agreed upon definitions of the boundaries.
For your boss, you can remind them that the company has asked you to cut back your hours. And then offer up priorities for them to further agree on. Ask which tasks or priorities can be left off if you hit your maximum hours. It is in a company's best intersted to get as much work out of you for the least amount of pay but it is not the reverse. The more you work with less pay, the less it helps you be healthy and financially secure.
For physical distancing, we have government mandates in place asking us to keep a physical distance of 6 feet. You can gently remind someone of that. Or you can simply cross the street before they get to you if it looks like someone is not going to maintain that. Take action and be assertive. If you are in a grocery aisle and suddenly a group of teenagers comes down that aisle, you can ask them to wait until you get your item or you can leave the asile and come back when they are gone.
For the housework, it depends on what sort of agreements you might have already had with your partner, roomate, children etc. but you can also ask to re-set those given that these are not normal times.
While these are uncertain, and sometimes crazy times, we are learning a lot more about ourselves, about our relationships and about our own boundaries. Use this time to practice setting healthier ones so that you can easily maintain them going forward.