In this series, we read books so you don’t have to AND we throw in a business twist. With key takeaways and practical actions, you reap the benefits without entering page purgatory. The second edition of our series features a book review for Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab––because boundaries have been a hot topic lately.
DISCLAIMER: This book was read and reviewed from the perspective of Jaselin Drown – Strategic Account Manager and Content Marketing Manager at SNP.
Highlights: Book review for Set Boundaries Find Peace
- Pros: Practical, Gets to the point, Matter-of-fact presentation
- Cons: Can be pretty personal at times
- Would I recommend this? Yes, it may get personal, but this will help you be a better person in and outside of work.
- “If you don’t like something, do something about it.”
- Setting boundaries is a skill
- There are three types of boundaries: porous, rigid, and flexible.
“If you don’t like something, do something about it.”
The word “boundaries” gets people buzzing––people love it or hate it. At work, setting boundaries tends to get the misconception that it’s about saying no and that those who set boundaries don’t care about the work or their team. But, setting boundaries is more about managing your mindset than the people around you.
Tawwab says in her introduction, “If you don’t like something, do something about it.” Boundaries are about taking responsibility. You have to be the one to own them and enforce them.
So when might you need boundaries? Tawwab lists out a few signs:
- You feel overwhelmed
- You feel resentful toward people for asking for you help.
- You avoid phone calls and interactions with people who might ask for something
- You make commments about helping people and getting nothing in return.
- You feel burned out.
- You frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.
- You have no time for yourself.
If one of those bullets applies to you, you may be thinking about changing jobs. Tawwab calls out that, that might not be enough to change the situation. You might get to your next job and repeat the same patterns.
Tawwab implores us to ask ourselves three questions before pulling the escape hatch:
- Have I tried setting any boundaries?
- In what ways do I contribute to this situation
- What can I do to make this situation healthier?
Setting boundaries is a skill
Ok so we haven’t quite answered the question, what does a boundary look like yet?
Tawwab defines boundaries as “expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships.” (Page 5)
Tawwab also lists out a few signs that indicate poor boundaries at work.
- Doing work for others
- Being asked about personal issues
- Taking on more than you can handle
- Not delegating
- Doing jobs intended for more than one person
- Not taking advantage of vacation days
- Saying yes to tasks you can’t responsibly complete
- Engaging in stressful interactions
- Working during downtime
- Not taking needed time off
- Working without pay
I don’t agree with all of these. Sharing personal stories or issues in appropriate situations can help build relationships with colleagues. And, sometimes, as a high-performing team member, you might accidentally bite off more than you can chew or work during downtime. What is important is finding the balance so that you don’t end up emotionally dumping on your colleagues or getting to the point of burnout. Boundary setting is a tool to establish that balance.
To do that you need communication and action (page 13):
- Communication: No one is a mind reader, people don’t know your boundaries unless you communicate them. And to communicate them you have to know what your boundaries are.
- Action: Uphold what you communicate through your behavior when your boundary is crossed, otherwise, that boundary will continue to be crossed.
Communicating a boundary
For example, if you’re at capacity with your workload and you get asked to take on a new project you might say…
“I won’t be able to take on more work right now. Happy to chat again once this project is complete later this month.”
Now comes the hard part––action. Say the person who made that original ask tries to get you on the project anyway by inviting you to a sync after you’ve said you didn’t have the bandwidth. If you don’t enfore your boundary, then that person will know they can keep asking you for things when you say you’re at capacity. If you enfore it too strictly, you might ruin the relationship or discourage them from coming to you with future opportunities. SNP would say be curious and solution-oriented when setting a boundary.
RSVP no, then email the organizer/person who invited you and check-in…”Hey, I see I’m on this meeting. What were you hoping I could add to the discussion?”
Figure out where there coming from first and assume positive intent. Say they then respond with, “Oh, wanted to keep you in the loop. Was hoping you could take on xyz responsibilities with the project.” This is where you reinforce your boundary.
“Thank you for keeping me in the loop. As previously discussed, I cannot take on more work right now. Happy to chat again when these projects that I’m working on are complete. If you see a solution that would work for both of us in the meantime, let’s talk it through.”
You recognize their good intent. You restate your boundary and offer your solution of a later time frame. And you close by keeping the conversation open to what other solutions they have in mind.
If that example felt lengthy, it’s because it is. Setting boundaries is a skill that requires consistent effort, practice, and perseverance.
There are three types of boundaries: porous, rigid, and healthy
Now when you’re setting up your boundaries, there are three types to know about (page 10 – 12):
- Porous boundaries are weak or poorly expressed and are unintentionally harmful. They lead to feeling depleted, overextending yourself, depression, anxiety, and unhealthy relationship dynamics. Think: oversharing, codependency, inability to say no, people-pleasing, dependency on feedback from others, paralyzing fear of being rejected, accepting mistreatment.
- Rigid boundaries involve building walls to keep others out as a way to keep yourself safe. But staying safe by locking yourself in is unhealthy and a self-protective mechanism meant to build distance. Think: never sharing, building walls, avoiding vulnerability, cutting people out, having high expectations of others, enforcing strict rules
- Healthy boundaries are possible when your past doesn’t show up in your present interactions. They require a clear awareness of your emotional, mental, and physical capacities, combined with clear communication. Think: being clear about your values, listening to your own opinion, sharing with others appropriately, having a healthy vulnerability with people who’d earned your trust, being comfortable saying no, being comfortable hearing “no” without taking it personally.
Be Solution Oriented
Again, SNP would add to all of this boundary setting: be solution-oriented. If someone is coming to you at work with an ask, assume positive intent and help where you can. For example, if someone is asking you for something after hours you could say something like:
- I’m not online for the rest of the evening, but I can get it to you first thing in the morning.
- I’m doing XYZ right now, but I can be back at my desk at xyz time to send it to you.
- I can’t get this to you, but I talked to John, and he has some time to help you.
Of course, this involves a little extra work like checking your calendar, asking around to tap in colleagues, and also just being comfortable with saying no in order to show up at work better the next day, but that extra mile is what differentiates a high-performing team that supports one another.
We may not all agree
We may not all agree on what boundaries are or how they should be expressed. But, I think we can all agree that it’s our responsibility to do what we can, communicate with each other, and improve our situations while helping others.
As we said in our previous blog (a book review for How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera), there’s no quick fix. Practice, practice, persist.