Setting Boundaries at Work: One of the Best Decisions You’ll Ever Make

Article Categories: Jobs & Legal and Ethics

There are many kinds of people at your workplace, including patients and their families, your coworkers, supervisors . . . and then there is you. You just want to do your best each shift.

There are also those who make unreasonable demands or want your attention all for themselves—they never know when to stop! They put your patience to the test and make you doubt whether or not you still believe in humanity.

As a CNA, you probably know at least one or two of these difficult folks. Every workplace has them. Perhaps you know a patient who won’t eat unless everything’s perfect. Or, it might just be your chatty coworker pulling you away from patient care to tell you all about her Instagram—for more than 30 minutes!

When you get tangled in these sticky situations, you need to set boundaries so you aren’t bullied and used until you’re scrambling to finish your work (and maybe even theirs!).

Here are some pro tips to follow:

1. Teach people how to treat you—early on.

Be supportive and helpful, but do not be someone’s doormat. Have the backbone to stress your limits in a respectful way. Abusive patients, for example, can sense staff who will cave to whatever they demand. The more someone gives, the more they want. Usually, for these patients, whatever you do is never good enough.

Also, learn to decline absurd requests. There are many ways to say no. For example:
"I'd love to hear your story after shift."
"Let's try to do it three times together. After that, you can try it on your own or wait until I’m free later."

It will take guts and practice—the trick is to be consistent from the very start. Don't allow the abuse to happen several times before properly handling it.

2. Speak up and communicate clearly.

Running the other way when a demanding coworker heads toward you may signal that you are avoiding them for some other reason. This could potentially create a rift between you two. Be honest and respectful and say, "I'm sorry, I can’t help you today, because I also have a ton of work. But I’ll come by if I finish early.” Don’t necessarily expect a peaceful acceptance of this, though. Manipulative people can be easily angered and retaliate when rejected. The best thing to do is to be polite, firm, and sincere to pull this tip off.

3. Keep your cool.

Sometimes, patients lose it when they don’t get their way. They may throw things and use hurtful words. Because you know you have done your best to meet their needs, you have to keep calm, even when the situation feels unfair. Keeping a level head is hard to do, but it can save you more trouble later on.

4. Prepare for the worst.

At some point, your resilience won’t win over unreasonable people. Your boundaries will be crossed. One of the best ways to deal with this is to prepare. Plan your words, visualize your actions, and always keep a record of what happens in every encounter. Be mindful of how you treat the other person, however harsh they seem.

For nursing assistants, learning to set limits at work takes guts, time, and practice. But, once learned, it can help you form meaningful interpersonal relationships at work and discourage a culture of fear and bullying. When you successfully establish boundaries, you'll have a much more rewarding experience as a CNA. At the end of the day, you'll realize it's one of the best career decisions you’ve made!


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