Set Boundaries While Boosting Your Reputation

Click the play button to listen to the podcast episode.

Do you have a hard time setting boundaries at work for fear that it will make you look bad?

In this episode I’m going to answer a listener question on this very topic.

Do You Struggle to Set Boundaries?

This year I’ve been doing more on-air coaching calls to dive into challenges that many of you are facing. These episodes provide an opportunity to get the full context of the challenge and explore personalized solutions for the women on these episodes.

Given how popular these episodes have been I’m going to guess that the challenges and the solutions have resonated with many of you.

Something additional I’d like to throw out there is collecting listener questions. While the on-air episodes are anonymous, not everyone is comfortable having such an open conversation about the challenges they are faced with. Or, having that conversation recorded and published for public consumption.

So, I’m going to do an episode every now and again responding to questions from you. I have received one already so I’m going to start there.

The question was submitted as a potential topic for the podcast and that part of the message read:

Topic suggestion: “How can I turn this down without it looking bad? Setting boundaries at work without jeopardizing your work reputation. Even when I say I’m disconnecting and have backups in place, everyone still contacts me.”

For this question I’m going to first recommend going back to two previous episodes.

Episode 429: Your “No” Screams Senior Leadership

Episode 431: Tending to Your Mental and Emotional Wellness is Not an Option

Set Boundaries Around Your Scope of Work

Listen to those episodes and, also consider, the honest reason why you are saying no to this additional work.

Are you already at capacity, for whatever reason, and there is no possibility of delegating work?

Will this additional work put higher priority projects or tasks in jeopardy?

Is the request unreasonable? Is it outside your abilities or well outside the scope of responsibilities?

Most times, the best answer is the honest answer, though be mindful of how you deliver your honesty.

Set the boundary by saying “no thank you.”

Start with, thank you for thinking of me or thank you for considering me for this.

Then, explain why it won’t work for you. If it’s just the timing of the request that’s the problem then your response will explain why you cannot take it on at this time.

I know you’re a team player. You wouldn’t be in leadership and listening to this podcast if you didn’t care about the people around you and the organization you are working for.

And, it is perfectly okay to say no thank you if saying yes will hurt your wellbeing or your overall performance.  

Set Boundaries Around Your Time Off

Now let’s talk about the situations where, even when you say you’re disconnecting and have backups in place, people are still contacting you.

If people are still contacting you even when you have declared you are unavailable and have assigned others to field questions and problems in your stead, it’s because they think it’s okay to do that.

My question is, where did they get the impression that it’s okay to contact you even when you’ve declared a boundary and offered others as resources.

Is this a part of the organizational culture that you work within or is this something that is primarily happening to you?

If it’s a part of the organization, this is a systemic problem, and I can see why you would be hesitant to do something that is counter-culture. However, it does need to be addressed, because it’s not healthy or beneficial to the organization.

Everyone needs an opportunity to disconnect from work altogether or to disconnect from the day-to-day work to do uninterrupted focused work at times.

If this is an organizational problem, this needs to be addressed at the organizational level. And, you can get the ball rolling by setting the boundary with those you work directly with and communicating the issue to your manager, to Human Resources, or any other leaders who impact corporate culture.

You Teach People How to Treat You

Now, if this experience – not having your boundaries respected – is primarily happening to you, it might be because you haven’t trained those around you to respect your boundaries.

I’m going to address boundary setting in general for those who need to hear it, and then I’ll address doing it without hurting your reputation.

There is a saying I want you to consider. You teach people how to treat you.

When others don’t respect your boundaries, do you redirect them to your backups? Do you have a very clear conversation with those who didn’t respect your boundary about what they did, how it impacted you, and what needs to happen in the future.

When you don’t address another person’s behavior you send an unspoken communication that what they are doing is okay.

Unless one is hyper vigilant to the rules, human beings tend to follow the rules that are enforced. This is why we drive over the speed limit unless we see a police car. We all break rules on occasion.

Set and Enforce Boundaries

Additionally, if we see others disrespect a boundary, and it is not called out or addressed, we are more likely to ignore that boundary in the future. Furthermore, if the person breaking the boundary is rewarded (for instance, their question gets answered), they and the people who know about it will no longer relate to the boundary as a boundary. It becomes nonexistent in our minds.

For a boundary to do its job, you have to enforce the boundary. You can’t just communicate the boundary and assume everyone is onboard. It is a true boundary when you hold your ground and address any behaviors that go against your boundary.

For the person who submitted this question, I’m guessing that because there is a concern of ruining your work reputation you are not having direct conversations with the individuals who continue to contact you even when you say you are unavailable.

Not only that, you are likely answering the call or responding to the email or message. If that’s the case your words say you are unavailable but your behavior says you are very much available.

Questions to Consider to Set Boundaries

Here are some more questions to consider. What makes you believe it would hurt your reputation if you either:

  • didn’t respond until the time at which you said you would be available again and/or,
  • kindly pointed out to the individual contacting you that they are not respecting your wishes/boundary and redirecting them?

Another question, what is your impression of leaders who decline projects or set boundaries around their time?

If you don’t have any negative opinions, I would point out you are possibly holding yourself to an unreasonable expectation.

If you do have a negative opinion of those leaders, what belief do you hold about leaders or leadership that fosters that opinion? That belief might be worth examining.

For instance, do you believe good leaders are always available? Or do you believe if you want to advance in your career you have to always be available and say yes to everything.

Use the Soft No

Lastly, and getting to the quick answer you might have been hoping for. Much like the soft no thank you, explain to others the absolute importance of you having some downtime or time for focused work, and redirect them to your backups.

“If you want something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

If you are open to an on-air coaching episode, I’m going to encourage you to apply. There’s so much more we can accomplished when we are having a back and forth conversation.

Would you like to submit a listener question? Go ahead and send me a message on LinkedIn or comment on any social media post.

Do you need help with this? Let’s chat!

If your last promotion left you feeling unstable in your leadership role, or you are looking to develop into your next role, I invite you to consider working with me. You will be support you through the transition, and confident in your leadership once again. Schedule a meeting to chat with me.

Going to ask your company to sponsor you to work with a coach? This checklist will help you to prepare for that conversation.

As always, I hope this was of value to you, and here’s to your success!


Apply to be on an “On-Air Coaching” episode: Are you a female leader who has been promoted in the last year? Apply to be on the podcast.

Leadership Operating System Inventory. Wondering what kind of Leadership traits you have? Take this FREE, FAST self-assessment and find out more about yourself as a Leader.

Accomplished: How to Go from Dreaming to DoingThe book containing a simple, step-by-step system that gives you the structure to take your goals and make them happen.

The Women Taking the Lead Podcast

Subscribe through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Stitcher Radio, Amazon Music or Pandora and never miss out!