Is it hard for you to say ‘no’ to people? Do you keep agreeing to do things you either don’t want to do, don’t like to do or don’t’ even have time or energy to do? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself? Do you tolerate rude comments in order to avoid conflict? If so, it is time you set some strong and healthy boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries to ourselves and honoring the boundaries of others is essential to a healthy and happy personal and professional life and it’s a learnable skill. Stick with me and I will teach you how.
creds: Michael Dziedzic
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet
‘Mary’ knew her next two months would be crazy. Her work schedule would take her everywhere, non-stop, and she still had to get a ton of work done. She would have no time to socialize, even though she wanted to, but friends kept asking to see her and she didn’t know how to say ‘no’. She did not want to hurt their feelings.
‘Jane’ had just accepted this new leadership position she had been eyeing for a while now. She had also started a masters’ program. And she was still saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything. Her weekends were now taken over by all of the requests she couldn’t say ‘no’ to and her studies. Her family was not happy. She was burning out.
Her colleague was questioning the quality of ‘Sally’s’ work during meetings, to other colleagues and even to their boss. She didn’t like it, of course, but she kept it all repressed inside, as she usually did. Until one day that colleague undermined her in front of a client. He definitely crossed the line and she exploded in reaction.
BOUNDARIES: NOT AS OBVIOUS AS VISIBLE FENCES OR NO-TRESPASSING SIGNS
Boundaries refer to the limit of our tolerance for another’s actions or words. They are guidelines, rules or limits that we create to identify what’s very important to us. It is the line that is crossed and pushes us beyond our limits of tolerance. It helps us decide what types of behavior, communication or interaction are acceptable to us. It’s what’s ok and what’s not ok for us.
The easiest way to think of boundaries is to think of a property line or a fence. However, our personal boundaries aren’t as obvious as a fence or a “no trespassing” sign. They are invisible. So it is our job to clearly communicate them to those around us. Knowing what they are and communicating them send a clear message that if that boundary is violated, there will be consequences.
We can set boundaries for our:
- personal space
- physical stuff
- thoughts, emotions, and feelings
- time and energy
- beliefs and values
Setting strong boundaries are very beneficial to us and others:
Being a people-pleaser is just not good. Saying ‘yes’ all the time and considering other people’s needs before yours can lead you to burn out, a major health hazard in its own right. You feel resentful and bitter. However, research has shown that creating boundaries can make us healthier and happier, benefiting our relationships as a result:
DEFINE YOUR BOUNDARIES: KNOW THEM FIRST
Before you start setting boundaries you need to know what they are. Our boundaries are shaped by our culture, our religion, our internal beliefs, our personality, our life experiences, and our family dynamics; what we consider to be our rights, needs, and personal values. They are, therefore, very personal and subjective. Take a moment to reflect on and define the following:
Define your rights.
- I have a right to privacy.
- I have a right to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty.
- I have a right to make my needs as important as others’.
- I have a right to ask for more information before making a decision.
People may not:
- Yell at me.
- Humiliate or criticize me in front of others.
- Go through my personal belongings.
- Invade my personal space.
- Criticize me negatively.
Tune into your feelings and check in with your body.
Pay attention to how you feel and how your body reacts to someone’s words or actions. That’s your cue that a boundary has been violated:
- Do you feel resentment or anger towards that person?
- Do you clench your fist?
- Do you pierce your lips?
- Do you feel a tightening of your stomach or chest?
- Does your heart rate increase?
Define your personal core values.
Our values are closely related to our moral philosophy. They highlight what we stand for, and can represent our unique essence. And when we don’t honor our values, our mental, emotional, and physical health suffer. Circle the values that are the strongest and represent you best: (you can find a more substantial list of core values here)
Emotional and intellectual boundaries:
- Are you sacrificing your dreams or goals to please others?
- Are you allowing other people’s moods affect your own?
- Are you having a hard time separating your feelings from others’?
- Are you taking on someone else’s pain as your own?
- Are you not taking responsibility for your actions and blaming others for your problems?
COMMUNICATING YOUR BOUNDARIES
You have defined your boundaries and named them. Now you must communicate what they are if you want them to be respected. In communicating your boundaries you should be assertive, not be afraid of saying ‘no’ and not take people’s comments personally.
Speak up and be assertive.
Assertive language is clear and non-negotiable, without blaming or threatening others. When we set boundaries with assertiveness, it feels firm but kind. “I Statements” work really well in most cases and it replaces the ‘blame’ statements:
“Can you stop asking me when I am going to be done with the project? You are wasting my time.”
However, when dealing very strong personalities, “I” statements won’t work and you may have to be even more direct and firm to assert yourself:
- “Please do not yell at me. If you don’t stop I will have to leave.”
- “It’s not ok for you to always criticize my work ethics in front of others. If you have an issue with how I do things I would prefer us having a separate conversation about it.”
- “I know I agreed to head up the fundraising efforts but after looking at my schedule I realized I just won’t be able to do it.”
- “While I appreciate your interest in our practices here at the school, I am asking you to refrain from speaking to us in that tone. We are all highly trained and competent professionals who know what we are doing and are accurately following the curriculum provided by us from the District/Secretary of Education.”
Learn to say ‘no’.
Remember that when you automatically say ‘yes’ to something, you are also automatically saying ‘no’ to something else. Even though it can be intimidating, you can say ‘no’ without offering an explanation or excuse. ‘No’ is a complete sentence. But if you prefer adding something to your ‘no’, here are some suggestions:
- “I’m afraid I can’t (help) at the moment.”
- “That doesn’t work for me (right now), but thank you.”
- “I don’t have the time to commit to it at the moment.”
- “Sounds tempting but I’ll pass.”
- “I don’t’ have the bandwidth to do it at the moment. Maybe next time.”
- “I don’t’ have the resources to pull that off right now.”
Don’t take it personally.
When you have created strong boundaries you stop taking people’s comments too personally. Your internal boundaries will prevent you from accepting a comment without checking with yourself first. For example, when someone accuses you of being arrogant or being lazy or not being a good person/professional, you will stop and consider the statement before taking it in. When you use this internal shield, especially with difficult people like an ex-spouse or critical boss or co-worker, it gives you time to ask yourself:
- “How much of this is true about me?”
- “How much of this is actually about the other person?”
- “What do I need to do (if anything) to regain my personal power or stand up for myself?”
This last question is very important. Too often people don’t stand up for themselves because they are afraid of confrontation which makes it harder to set boundaries. Now, if someone offends you, you have the tools and should be able to speak up against it.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE AND HONOR OTHER’S BOUNDARIES
Now that you know how to set and maintain your boundaries, you can (and should) spot other people’s boundaries and avoid overstepping. As you talk to others, pay attention to the following behaviors, if you notice them, it may be a sign that you may be overstepping the other person’s boundaries:
Don’t be afraid to ask
When you notice one of the behaviors mentioned above, don’t hesitate to ask. It will show that you pay attention, you care and respect the other person. People appreciate being respected.
“You are not talking much right now, it feels more like a monologue, did I overstep a boundary? It was not my intention. I apologize.”
BOUNDARIES ARE HERE TO HELP
Boundaries fortify our relationship with others rather than build walls and separate us, as some may think. It shows that we respect and care for ourselves and the other person. It is essential to our personal health and happiness as it helps us understand and respect our personal limits and the health and happiness of our relationships.
As you set, communicate and maintain your boundaries for yourself, ask people in your life about their limits as well, ask if you are pushing their boundaries. It may seem scary at first, but it will mostly be met with appreciation.
Now I bet you are curious to know what happened to ‘Mary’, ‘Jane’ and ‘Sally’ as they learned to set, communicate and maintain their boundaries. *(their names have been changed to maintain their privacy, of course):
‘Mary’ told her friends and family that she would be busy with work for the next two months with a tight deadline and would not be responding to or attending social events. But she would contact each one individually as soon as her schedule lightens up a bit. They appreciated the communication and wished her well in her “busy” journey. She was touched by their warm response.
‘Jane’ decided to stop the masters’ program as it was not really related to her new position at work, nor something she truly loved. She also created a more structured work schedule, stopped bringing work home and started saying “NO” to asks she did not want to do, did not have time nor energy to do it. It was hard in the beginning, but she learned quickly. Her weekends were now free again for her family, socializing with friends and trips, or whatever she wanted to do. She has become noticeably more engaged, happy and effective at work.
‘Sally’ called her colleague aside one day and firmly said: ‘It’s not ok for you to criticize my work in front of others. I feel stressed and frustrated when you do that and it is not productive for the team. There are things that you do that I don’t agree with but I don’t say anything because it is not my place to do so. If you have an issue with how I do things I will listen to suggestions but I would prefer us having a private conversation about it.” She said the same thing to her boss. From that day on, her boss started calling her into the office for conversations about performance. As a turn of events, her colleague not only shared suggestions but also started asking Sally for suggestions and help to her own projects. It looks like everyone got a lesson on setting boundaries and collaboration!
For more effective communication strategies and tools download FREE POWERFUL COMMUNICATION TOOLS HERE.
Focusing on what matters most, let’s transform our communication and improve our relationships one conversation at a time.