We all have them…those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to. We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us. Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.
Self-awareness comes first. Before you can establish boundaries with others you first need to understand what your needs are. You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself and to from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.
In order to set appropriate boundaries you need to be clear about what healthy behavior looks like, what healthy relationships look like. You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior.
You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them.
Clear communication is essential. Inform others in a clear and direct manner what your expectations are. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable. Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving in an inappropriate way. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.
Be specific, but don’t blame. Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature. That said, you do not need to over explain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.
Consequences are often necessary. Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others. Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.
Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us. But, we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success. We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide in order to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.” It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.
It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.
Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you. Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them. They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.
Featured photo credit: Woman holding a pot with imprisoned man in it via Shutterstock
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