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Navigating Workplace Relationships: Setting Boundaries with High-Conflict Personalities

high conflict

In workplace cultures, encountering high-conflict dynamics with bosses, colleagues, or clients is not uncommon. Why is that? It’s because we all grew up in diverse environments where communication, conflict, and connection were handled differently. However, just because we are no longer in the home environment, how we approach stress, triggers, or emotions can play out the same exact way within the workplace. 

When it comes to understanding ourselves and our colleagues, bosses, or even clients, we have the power from within to reduce conflict, increase understanding and communication, and build trustworthy and valuable connections. Perhaps you’re wondering how you can influence a boss who makes you work holiday weekends, the colleague who enters your workspace without communication, or the client who fails to show up on time. 

Your voice is your value in your relationships. 

To achieve greater fulfillment in the workplace, it’s essential to establish professional boundaries to maintain a healthy work environment and protect your well-being. Here is how you can begin taking back your power in the workplace when faced with high-conflict individuals.

  1. Understanding High-Conflict Behavior:

Someone with a high-conflict personality in the workplace generally has unresolved trauma from childhood that they are projecting onto their relationships within the workplace. High-conflict personalities often exhibit traits like defensiveness, blame-shifting, and an unwillingness to cooperate or listen to perspectives outside of their own. Recognizing these behaviors is the first step in effectively managing workplace interactions.

  1. Clarify Responsibilities:

It’s not uncommon for high-conflict bosses or supervisors to dump other responsibilities onto your plate that are outside of your role, making your job twice as stressful with short deadlines. 

Clearly define your role and responsibilities to avoid potential conflicts. Establishing a precise job description can help create a framework that mitigates misunderstandings and reduces the scope for unwarranted disputes. 

  1. Establish Communication Guidelines:

Develop communication protocols to minimize misunderstandings. Clearly state your preferences for communication channels, frequency of updates, and the nature of information to be shared. Having these guidelines in place helps create a structured and predictable work environment.

  1. Set Clear Personal Boundaries:

Clearly delineate between professional and personal boundaries. While it's crucial to maintain a level of professionalism, establishing personal boundaries can help protect your emotional well-being. Clearly communicate when work-related discussions veer into personal territory. 

Types of Professional Boundaries:

  • Valuing time management and deadlines

  • Having integrity with roles and responsibilities 

  • Declining inappropriate favors for financial gain or career advancement

  • Refraining from emotional expression that hinders performance 

  • Addressing tasks outside of work responsibilities and professional hours

  • Disengaging from unwarranted sexual advances or inappropriate conduct

  • Dressing professionally based on company policies

  • Setting communication guidelines during business hours 

  • Requesting additional compensation for overtime or holiday work 

  • Negotiating a salary based on professional responsibilities and skill set

  • Shutting down power imbalances and workplace bullying

  • Asking for promotions, bonuses, and salary increases in writing 

Professional Boundary Scripts:

  • I think we have a different understanding of professional hours when discussing work projects. I value work-life balance. Can we schedule a time to discuss this at the office?

  • It appears there is a miscommunication issue between us when instant messaging. I value personal space. Can we establish a response time before sending another message? 

  • It seems confusing when asked to perform tasks outside of my role and responsibilities. I value teamwork. Can we outsource this to a team member who manages these tasks?

  1. Document Interactions:

Keep a written record of all significant interactions, including emails, messages, or contracts. Having a documented trail can be valuable when addressing conflicts with a high-conflict boss, colleague, or client. It provides a factual basis for discussions and can be useful if you need to involve human resources or outside assistance. 

high conflict

  1. Utilize Neutral Language:

When communicating with high-conflict individuals, choose your words carefully. Use a calm tone and factual language to convey your thoughts and express concerns. Avoid engaging in emotional exchanges that can escalate the conflict. 

Follow the 5Cs for workplace communication: 

  • Calm Tone

  • Concise Messaging

  • Constructive Language 

  • Confident Demeanor 

  • Consistent Rhythm 

  1. Seek Mediation or Support:

If conflicts persist, consider seeking mediation or involving a neutral third party to facilitate discussions. Human resources or a supervisor may provide support in resolving workplace conflicts, ensuring a fair and unbiased resolution.

Setting boundaries in the workplace is essential for maintaining a positive and productive professional environment, especially when dealing with high-conflict bosses, colleagues, or clients. By clarifying responsibilities, establishing communication guidelines, setting personal boundaries, documenting interactions, using neutral language, and seeking support when needed, you can navigate workplace waters successfully. Remember, your well-being matters, and maintaining healthy boundaries is a key aspect of a fulfilling professional life. No job or client is worth sacrificing your mental and physical well-being for. Voice Your Value. 


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