We establish what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t by what we permit. This is true in relationships, and it is true in communication too.

When someone talks over you, do you just wait until they are done? If someone uses language that makes you cringe, do you stay silent? What about letting someone take things off topic when you really wish they would focus? Or do you sulk quietly after someone rolls their eyes after you share an idea?

Unless that other person has a quick onset of emotional intelligence, they are going to keep doing what they do because they are either unaware, or they are being allowed to do it.

When I work with clients on setting boundaries in the workplace, I find they are often too worried about others and not enough about themselves. They think that if they advocate for what they need or want, that will seem like a jerk. It doesn’t have to be that way, but you do need to exercise a little assertiveness. Here is how to do it.

  1. Acknowledge that your communication needs are just as valid as the next person’s.
  2. Recognize that you deserve to have your communication preferences honored.
  3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  4. Adopt the mantra, “To say yes to myself, I have to say no to something else.”
  5. Identify what you don’t want.
  6. Decide what you do want.
  7. Speak it.

Let’s put those steps into the following scenario: Your coworker is monopolizing a meeting, and you are concerned there won’t be enough time to share your project update.

  1. My agenda item is just as important as theirs.
  2. I deserve to have the time slotted on the agenda.
  3. It’s okay if I am a little nervous to assert myself.
  4. To get what I need out of the meeting, I have to ask my coworker to respect the agenda.
  5. I don’t want to leave the meeting without having shared my update.
  6. I want my coworker to wrap up in the next 2 minutes.
  7. “I understand [coworker] that your topic is important. I also think it is important that we get to all the items on the agenda today. To do that we need to keep moving forward. Would you be willing to summarize your thoughts/needs in the next two minutes?”

If you’re not used to asserting yourself, expect some difficulty and discomfort setting boundaries. That’s okay. Just keep reminding yourself that if you don’t advocate for what you need or want, nothing will change.