You have probably heard people talk about boundaries at work.

A boundary is an invisible line between what you will and will not allow. Insecure bosses and colleagues often don’t have them.

They don’t know what to do with their unrest, so it turns into anger and despair that gets vented in an inappropriate way at people who don’t deserve it. It’s only a short fix for them so they must keep venting to feel better – dreadful for you.

All conflict stems from a need to be right so the first thing you want to do with a difficult colleague is to let them be right.

This is difficult to achieve when your ego is in the way.

Therefore, when you are working on your executive presence you must start first with learning to self-regulate – manage your emotions in the crucial fight-or-flight moment.

In that crucial moment where you have been offended or feel threatened, take a deep breath and assure yourself you are safe. Be an observer of your own thoughts before you act out.

Don’t lash out, withdraw, shut down, or undermine. Acknowledge what you are feeling before it shows.

Admit to yourself, ‘I feel criticized and inferior right now.’ Own your feelings on the issue. We can release what we own. Then free that negative feeling and allow it to flow by like a leaf on a river.

Here’s what to say when you want to draw a healthy boundary with a mean colleague or boss.

  1.  “I want to help you meet your goals and I’m not sure what you expect of me when you say that. Can you be very specific?” Most of the time they won’t have an answer. This is far more effective than arguing especially in front of peers.
  2. “I agree with you and have your back. If I were meeting your expectations AND being successful with what I’m measured against what would that look like?” They likely won’t know.
  3. “If you were me and had to succeed at what I’m measured against and work in alignment with colleagues who have different goals what would you do?” They probably aren’t even sure how to do their job let alone yours.

The point in all these scenarios is that when you show you have your colleague’s back and demonstrate compassion for their position, then press them to get specific in what they expect of you, it puts them in a ‘solutions focus’ instead of a ‘critical focus.’ If they are an insecure leader, they will often feel even more inept in this situation and begin to stand down because they won’t want to look ineffective.

Originally published on Ladders.

Sign up to receive daily news, inspiration, and advice on how to master work and life from Ladders.

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.