The world seems to be spinning faster these days with one unprecedented event after another. On the worst days, it feels like the hits just keep on coming. Undoubtedly, some industries have been more affected than others, but no matter your profession, employers everywhere have been asking for more from their employees and vice versa. And with good reason! This past year was about redefining work-life-balance and everyone had to make some adjustments.
However, the stakes are continuing to rise while motivation drops, leaving many businesses dealing with retention issues — something you might not expect in times of such uncertainty. The reality is, simply existing has been a lot lately, and “asking for more” can easily turn into “crossing a boundary.”
How to Set Boundaries
Crossing a boundary exists on a kind of spectrum — there’s the unintentional boundary-crosser, where most people live, and then there’s the entitled individual, energy vampire, and finally, the full blown narcissist. At work, they manifest as the manager or client who believes you owe them something (or everything!). Maybe they’re willing to inconvenience others to have their own needs met — although, ironically, they’re typically insecure and unfulfilled themselves. Once you learn to set boundaries with these types, you can expect they'll react poorly. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
Here are several ways to start setting healthy boundaries:
- Take good care of yourself: whether you’re in an office or working remotely, prioritize taking breaks. Go for walks, find and leverage your support system, exercise, find a hobby… you get the drill. Focus on things that nourish your mind and body, and don’t compromise on your commitment to yourself. When you let someone cross your self-care boundary, it tends to happen again and can even become the seeds of resentment.
- Practice compassion: often, the energy vampire is quite fragile on the inside, so practicing a level of grace and compassion can be a good way to create separation between them and their behavior. You can even check in on them while setting a boundary. Say something like, “I’m not available to take care of that for you, but it’s made me wonder... how are you doing?” Consider where their needs may be coming from, and where you two may actually connect. That said, practicing compassion in no way negates your obligation to take good care of yourself and expect respect.
- Determine where you can say “no” or set a limit: this can be hard, but it’s essential. The key is in how you deliver the message. For example, “I wish could, but I am unable to due to prior commitments.” Or, “I’d be happy to help; my next opening is on Thursday.” You get the idea — don’t just say yes or no. Instead, re-set expectations with kindness and openness.
- Find the win/win: is there a way for the situation to work out so you have your needs met and still live up to their expectations? For instance — if you’re being asked to produce something quickly, but taking time to complete the task will actually benefit that person more, respectfully point that out to them. Now you get more time and they get the high quality they expect. Work toward a resolution that works for both of you.
- Remember that it’s not personal: kindness, curiosity, forgiveness, gratitude, love, perseverance — these are all character strengths that you can embody in difficult moments. And if you’re stuck in a pattern with an energy vampire that simply isn’t getting any better, you may need to make a larger shift that will pay off in the long run.
How to Examine Our Own Entitlement
If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have or will exhibit some level of entitlement in our own lives. The question is, where are we expressing it and to what degree? Right now, I’m seeing more and more people who are exhausted, stressed out, and straining. At times, this can morph into exacting a high cost on the people around them, unknowingly siphoning off their energy.
Ironically, when you hold this sense of entitlement, it hurts you too. You create such high expectations that it can lead to constant disappointment and perpetual stress because things are not going your way.
So, how do you examine yourself for entitlement and make some shifts?
- Reflect: are there any areas of your life where you are expecting a certain level of treatment, better service, or circumstances than others? Maybe certain actions and tasks feel “beneath you.” Examine that feeling. It’s normal and happens to all of us at times! It’s a sign that you may be showing up to certain areas of your life with a sense of entitlement. For example, do you regularly text and call your colleagues outside of business hours to ask them to do something? This could be a sign of entitlement.
- Focus: where do you have control? Ask yourself frequently what you can do, not what others can do for you. A little Kennedy-esque, but it’s important to think about whether you can do a specific task yourself before you put it on someone else.
- Practice gratitude: practice gratitude for what you have. Better yet, go be of service to others, and practice appreciation for the people around you who are contributing. Thank them and give them credit.
- Learn humility: override a sense of entitlement by showing humility. We’re all self-interested by nature, but it’s important to remind yourself that no one owes you reverence. But you can always show favor to others.
2020 has given the gift of helping us examine our priorities and what’s important. One of the most central priorities is how we are treated and treat others. Chaos and stress have been working to create an army of energy vampires, and in some cases, has even turned us into one… temporarily, I hope! Let me be clear — having a belief that you deserve to do well and find success is good. But when that turns into an unreasonable demand on others, it becomes an issue.
As leaders, we sometimes focus solely on our business strategy. By the time we realize that we also need to address people and culture, it can feel like we don’t have enough time or energy to build a plan of action. For sustainable results, it’s important to focus on business, people, and culture — and at Meddlers, we can help you adapt as the context of each strategy shifts. If you want to get better at either how you treat yourself or how you treat others, give me a call.