Drawing Boundaries in Times of Corona: The Compassionate Way

Priyanka Sharma

- October 19, 2020

It is 11pm at night and your phone starts buzzing. You pick up the phone thinking it is a family emergency only to find that your colleague Ravi is requesting access to a file. This same colleague bothers you on weekends as well. He is really important to the team and you do not know how to say no to his requests for fear of spoiling your relationship. At the same time, you are feeling really exhausted by the constant disruptions in your family time and it feels like you are working all the time.

The Corona pandemic has created havoc with our daily routines. Working from home and home-schooling children has put added pressure on our lives. The boundaries between work, play and family time have become quite blurred. Studies have shown that people with good work life balance are more productive and creative at work. Exhausted employees are not going to give their best at work.  According to Harvard Business Review, the costs of burnt out employees can be very drastic for a company like low productivity , high turnover and loss of capable people. 

Often what happens is that even if the culture of the company does not allow it, there might be people who try to break these boundaries created to meet their needs for success and acknowledgement. People with weak time management skills can also create problems for other employees. Creating and enforcing a good company culture is a good step. However, what can we do personally as individuals when faced with such challenges from other people? How do we ensure that people do not cross our boundaries? This article will guide you how to enforce these boundaries with other people in a compassionate manner. 

When we set boundaries for ourselves at work with other people, what is it that we are trying to achieve? We are trying to get our needs met. We all have basic universal needs. While achieving success and accomplishing goals are two needs we all have, we also have needs for rest and rejuvenation. 

So, what happens when a colleague calls at 10 pm in the night, when you are exhausted? Probably your need for rest and rejuvenation will not be met. This might lead to feelings of anger and frustration. Over time this might lead to resentment and loss of goodwill in the relationship. An angry, resentful employee is not engaged, productive or creative. This article will help you to deal with this communication in a compassionate manner while meeting your needs and the needs of your colleagues in a compassionate manner. Here is how you can talk to Ravi using compassionate communication. 

Step 1.

Let us get back to Ravi. Ravi is calling you again at 10 pm, he needs you to help with a team report. Just imagine this scenario once in your mind. Now close your eyes and try to understand the feelings within you that this brings up. If you are not sure what feelings this brings up , please refer to a list of feelings here. In compassionate communication, feelings like anger, frustration, irritation point to needs that are not being met for you in this interaction. Now look within yourself and try to figure out what these needs could possibly be. In case you are unsure of your needs you can refer to the list of needs here. Now that you have understood your feelings and needs you can make a mental note of them.

Example: When Ravi calls me at 10 pm in the night I feel angry, exhausted, and frustrated because my needs for rest and rejuvenation are not being met. Also, my need for respect and space is not being met.

Step 2 

Now, it is going to get a little harder. We have become aware of our own feelings and needs. Now we try to understand what the feelings and needs of Ravi could be in this interaction.

Example: Perhaps when Ravi calls me at 10 pm in the night he is trying to fulfil his need to be efficient at work. This makes him feel at ease. He is also looking for ease when he calls me at 10 pm in the night because this might be a comfortable time for him to work.

Step 3 and 4 – Expressing Honestly and Receiving Empathetically

Now that we have understood our own feelings and needs in this interaction and tried to guess Ravi’s feelings and needs, we have a conversation with Ravi. There are two parts to this conversation. This can be in any order but if possible, it is always better to give the other person empathy first. According to Marshall Rosenberg , the founder of Compassionate Communication when people have felt heard, there is a higher possibility of them hearing you. 

Expressing Honestly: Here we state in the beginning only with factual observations of what the other person did and stay away from judgements. Then we try to express as honestly as possible what it is that we are feeling and what needs we have and then make a concrete doable request. Refer to our article on expressing honesty here.

Example: Ravi, I have observed that you call me at 10 pm three times this week, and also on Saturday at 3pm regarding work related tasks. It makes me feel very frustrated because I have a need for rest and rejuvenation in the off-work hours. I also feel very exhausted the next day and it is affecting my work. Do you need any support in terms of completing work tasks during work hours?

Receiving Empathetically: Here we listen with empathy to the person concerned. Empathy is a much-used term but often not correctly understood. According to Marshall Rosenberg, giving someone empathy means to be fully present to the other person’s experience. When the other person speaks, we must try to hear their needs and feelings rather than their criticisms or judgements. 

Example: *Ravi replies to your request*

I am new to the team and I have a lot of anxiety around the tasks. I am actually putting in 14 hours of work a day and I want to succeed at this role. Sometimes I am not able to complete the reporting tasks as I am still new to the dashboard and I have to meet the deadlines as I am afraid that my performance will be affected.

You: Do you feel anxiety because you have a need to succeed at your role and are new to the dashboard?

Ravi: Yes, that is right! I need more support on understanding the dashboard.

You: Can we arrange some time next week so I can give you more hands-on training on the dashboard? Would that be something helpful for you right now?

Ravi: Thank you so much! I think that is just what I need!

You: Great, I will set up the meeting. 

So, you see here, how a relationship that would have normally been fraught with frustration and anger turned into one that is of mutual support where everyone’s needs are met. A change in mind-set is all that is required where we move from creating enemy images of others to trying to understand their needs and feelings so we can have a mutually wonderful relationship.

To learn more about Non-Violent Communication please contact the CNVC center (c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication Website: Email:

About Serein

Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build safer work cultures and sexual harassment (POSH) trainings either in person or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH training in India and the US).

At Serein we believe that diversity and inclusion are the pillars of a good society. Issues of inclusion, diversity, mental health can affect home and the workplace in many ways.

Having worked on gender and with many other forms of diversity we have come to realise that an empathetic approach to all builds inclusion. It also builds a trusting environment in society as well as the workplace. If you would like to learn more about diversity and inclusion, inclusive leadership or how to speak about empathy, emotional/mental health issues or have an awareness training on gender and inclusion and mental wellbeing in the workplace, do drop us a line at

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Bhavini Pant

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Bhavini serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in industries like education, healthcare, IT, Pharma, and more. She has 70+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace and supporting partner organizations on the legal procedure and best practices for workplace safety.

Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

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Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

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Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

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Head of PoSH: India, Global

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Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

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She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

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Head of Legal

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She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

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Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

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Kirtika serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in fintech, healthcare, business management, gaming, and more. She has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedure and best practices.

She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

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Safety and PoSH expert

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Sharanya graduated with BBA, LLB (Hons.) degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She has experience in PoSH and employment law with notable law firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co., J. Sagar and Associates, among others.

Nandini Abraham

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Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.


Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

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Head of Financial Strategies

Abhishek is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.
Having worked extensively with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

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