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How To Set Effective Boundaries With People

By Ozlem, Jul 10 2015 10:33AM

We are interdependent.

We all need love, support and connection. Yet, there is a balance between how ‘connected’ and how ‘separate’ we need to be mentally, emotionally and physically. We get to decide our rules in our personal and professional relationships to be our best selves, to use our time and energy well and to remain balanced. This balance is attained by setting boundaries. But how can we set effective boundaries, without coming across as too rigid or as easily influenced? Here are some suggestions:

Know your values

Instead of always going with the flow, disturb your pattern- make time to stop and genuinely reflect on who you are and what you want. What inspires you? What are the things that you value the most in life? Integrity? Fairness? Independence? Achievement? Collaboration? Define your values clearly as your personal rules and boundaries are shaped around them.

Appreciate yourself

Enjoy being you. Know that who you are, what you want, what you need and how you feel matters. And this is why only you can decide how you would like to be treated. We protect things that we value and appreciate. If you appreciate yourself, with your strengths and flaws, you will protect ‘you’. And you will not easily let ‘you’ get mistreated.

Be kindly direct

Is being direct and kind at the same time possible? The answer is yes. This is about expressing your wants, needs and rights while considering the wants, needs and rights of others. You can let people know what you will tolerate and what you won't and do it in a sensitive way. Here are a few examples: “I understand this topic is really important to you. But we've already spoken about this many times and I honestly have nothing new to say on the subject. Could we just talk about….instead?” or “I just want to let you know when you and Jan joked about me in front of the boss- I felt hurt and undermined. I want you to know because I care about us working well together.” Kind yet direct!

Show you mean what you say

Don’t forget that articulating your rules, doesn't guarantee you communicated it all successfully. Only 7% of communication is ‘words’. The rest is ‘tone of voice’ and ‘body language’. You teach people how to treat you by what you allow. Our words and behaviour need to go hand in hand for effective communication.

A client recently told me she feels she wastes quite a bit of time talking to one of her friends on the phone almost every day. Her friend has had a few problems recently and my client tries to be there for her. But each conversation lasts at least half an hour and although she wants to support her friend she has too many responsibilities to be able to do this daily. She told me she spoke to her about this a few times with no success. The thing is if my client answers the phone every time her friend calls and lets her lead the conversation so she has no control over the duration, what is the subconscious message she gives by allowing the same behaviour over and over again (even if she told her she cannot speak with her every day)? Yes- her friend is likely to think the whole thing doesn't bother her that much. If it did or if she didn't have the time, she wouldn't take the calls in the first place.

So back up your words with matching behaviour.

Be very specific when giving feedback

Whether you feel happy, sad or frustrated with regards to someone’s behaviour, it is important that your feedback is specific. Something like ‘I felt hurt that you planned our weekend away without asking my opinion. It felt like my opinion and what I want didn't matter. I'd appreciate it if we can go over the itinerary together and if next time you remember to involve me in the process.’ is much better than ‘How dare you plan our weekend without consulting me? What’s the matter with you?’ This will also help you stay away from judgement and blame.

Respect the boundaries of others

Treat others how you want to be treated. In the same way your boundaries are central to your relationships, productivity and joy, the boundaries of others are central to theirs. Treat people with respect and understanding. Where possible try to meet in the middle, so everyone experiences a proportion of the ‘win’.

Look for support

If you find being assertive difficult especially because you end up weighting the thoughts and opinions of others more than yours, look for help. Who around you is great at setting boundaries? Could you work with a coach or a mentor to reflect on your belief patterns and behaviours? Look carefully and you will always find a few people who have mastered the very thing you’re working on.

And remember- despite all your efforts, sometimes setting boundaries will be offensive. Continue communicating yourself and your rules as best as you can. Simply because you are in charge of your own emotions, thoughts and time. And although how others feel is important, how you feel is also important. Your job is to protect your well-being and energy and only you are responsible with that.

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