How to Politely Defend Your Boundaries at Work

You would think that because I coach women on boundaries, one of my main entry points is how to defend your boundaries.

Leave work on time

Say no to that extra 

Just say no!!

But that’s almost never my starting point.

Because when you try to defend your boundaries like the Joan of Arc of work—you, of course, bring defensive energy.

And this feels bad because it’s counter to the way women are socialized, to be nice, collaborative and accommodating people.

And it makes you brittle and defensive and insecure.

Instead here’s what I tell women to do:

Focus on the results you need to achieve.

What does the project need?

What does the department need?

Where do we need to be in 30 days? 90 days?

Use that to guide what you say yes and no to.

→ Stuck in back to back meetings? Is this meeting actually the most effective way to achieve the result? If not, beg off.

“I’m sorry but I need to focus this week on building executive buy-in for the effort.”

→ Asked to do a quick turnaround after hours?

“Building the strategy on Thursday afternoon and presenting it on Friday morning will not result in a strategy that really works for the company. We need to change the timeline so we can get the company what it most needs.”

→ Most importantly? Protecting your time after work.

You were hired for how you think. What results you can achieve.

So making time to eat, to sleep, to decompress with friends and family after work is about protecting the talent (you) so you can show up to think, lead and ideate at the highest level.

What if defending your boundaries felt strong and visionary and like being an amazing leader?

This is the power of focusing on results.

Many midlevel women in the architecture and planning fields are facing overwork and burnout. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons they’re leaving their firms.


I conducted a survey on the experiences of the associate level and above in architecture and planning, and produced a whitepaper on my findings with key recommendations for career fulfillment. Click here to download my whitepaper and learn more.

Hi I'm Maya

Mia Scharphie , career coach, headshot

I’m a career coach and strategist with a secret power (I mean, past career) as a designer. I love road trips, graphic novels and helping people like you design the career you love on your own terms.