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ATD Blog

How Can I Get My Boss to Respect My Boundaries?

Thursday, November 9, 2023

You’ve done a good job communicating your expectations and needs. You’ve clearly laid out what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ve carefully explained the reasons behind your expectations. You’ve given your boss ample reason to feel motivated to conform to your requests.

So, what do you do if your boss still isn’t respecting your boundaries?

The fact that she is not conforming, despite all your efforts, means one of two things:

  • She’s not motivated. Other interests or needs are more important to her than accommodating yours.
  • She’s not able. The flow of her work makes your requests untenable. Her reality could be, for example, that urgent work frequently only manifests later in the day, so your needs don’t fit with workplace reality. Carefully consider this possibility. When you erroneously attribute problems to a lack of motivation, you can amp up your own resentment and judgment. Acknowledging that ability plays a role helps you be more empathetic and patient.

With that said, whether your boss’s behavior relates to motivation or ability, you have a few options given your commitment to your boundaries:

Option 1: Maintain Boundaries and Stay

This course of action means that you’ll only complete tasks that fit within your boundaries, unless you choose to make an occasional exception for unique circumstances. If you choose this option, you are choosing to accept the consequences of it, which likely include the following:


Your boss’s continued disappointment. She gets to feel disappointed and even resentful if she chooses. When you choose to continue to perform in ways that don’t work for her, you surrender the right to complain about her reaction. Find a way to be at peace with an upset boss without being petty or detached. One of the greatest indicators of emotional maturity is the capacity to care about others’ feelings without taking responsibility for them.

Employment uncertainty. If you fail to meet enough of your boss’s most important needs, there is a chance she will decide to find someone to replace you. She has the right to do that, just as you have a right to set limits on what you offer your employer. Even if she doesn’t fire you, accept that your upward mobility may suffer in this situation.

The spirit of this option is that you must stop trying to mold her into what you want. You can’t successfully do that with anyone in your life. If you take this route, don’t do so dishonestly—secretly hoping you can cajole her into surrendering her preferences. If you do that, you’ll unconsciously develop resentments and judgments against her. She has forthrightly shown you who she is and what she wants. If you choose the benefits of staying with this employer over changing jobs, take full responsibility for your choice.


Option 2: Maintain Boundaries and Go

Find a new work situation that fits your boundaries. This time make your needs a strong filter for the jobs you consider taking. Don’t wait until you’ve been given a name tag and assigned a parking place to ensure it’s a good fit.

This kind of clarity will not always make your decision easier. But in my experience, taking full emotional responsibility for life’s many tradeoffs helps you live in greater peace with both the upsides and downsides.

About the Author

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including the communication classic, Crucial Conversations. His whose work has been used by nearly half of the Forbes Global 2000 and has helped millions of people achieve better relationships and results. He cofounded Crucial Learning, one of the world’s most respected learning and organization development firms, offering courses in communication, performance, and leadership. Joseph is also the cofounder and current board chair of Unitus Labs, an international nonprofit that has helped more than 50 million people increase their self-reliance and provided capital arrangement services of more than $2 billion to some of the world’s most successful socially oriented ventures. Joseph also cofounded The Other Side Academy (TOSA), a residential school that teaches vocational and life skills to people with histories of crime, addiction, and homelessness.

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