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Setting Boundaries: How to Draw the Line When You Have No Idea Where to Put It

Setting Boundaries: How to Draw the Line When You Have No Idea Where to Put It

Line in the sand

    Have you ever felt at a loss when you needed to draw the line with someone?

    Have you put yourself at a disadvantage when you failed to draw the line because you couldn’t think of a way to do it ?

    Have you ever felt mistreated when someone drew a line to your disadvantage?

    Setting boundaries is one of the most important parts of relationships. It is more important to satisfactory relationships that just about everything else, since without agreeable boundaries, most relationships cannot function well. The expression, “Good fences make good neighbors,” is true.

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    At the same time we all have had experience with poor boundaries, boundaries that are too loose or too strict, boundaries that are self-serving and boundaries that feel abusive.

    So what can we do about this?

    Step 1: Know Yourself And Your Needs

    This first step in setting boundaries is to make an appointment with yourself. Make yourself comfortable with a notebook so that you can brainstorm your ideas.

    You need to create a map in your mind that enables you to confidently respond to boundary conflicts. When you have that map in your mind, you will feel more relaxed and will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and the other person.

    This is what you have to come to terms with:

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    1. What are my most important values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good compromises. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
    2. What are my most important priorities? It is easier to say yes or no, when you are honoring your most important priorities.
    3. What is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. It could be family time, diet requirements particularly if you are ill, or values related to doing harm to yourself or others.
    4. What can I be somewhat flexible about? Scheduling issues typically fall in this category. An example: “I can work between 7AM-6PM but have to leave no later than 6PM to pick up my children.”
    5. What can I always be flexible about? The answer could include family emergencies, activities that are important to a family member, where I jog, and where I live.
    6. How do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful.

    When thinking about setting boundaries and making compromises, you are considering the totality of your values, your limits in terms of time and energy and your desire and ability to sacrifice. These are all important issues to understand. Getting a handle on them keeps you from making commitments in a soft moment when your time will not really allow it, causing you to neglect a more important priority.

    Since boundary situations are often unique and complex, it is worth purchasing some books on the subject. Here are two that can help:

    1. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and
    2. Boundaries Where You End And I Begin: How To Recognize And Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine, M.A.

    Step 2: Planning For Problem Situations

    We all have difficult boundary situations. Some will involve a bossy person, a passive person or someone who has different values. Whatever the difficult boundary problems you face, you can help yourself a lot if you plan for them. These are some planning considerations:

    1. Identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
    2. For each difficult situation imagine a time when a conflict was resolved poorly and one that was resolved to your satisfaction.
    3. can you identify when conflict causes problems for you? For example: a passive person might sigh or complain as a way to get your attention and take care of their problems. If you give in to the pressure, you have taken on a problem that is not really yours to solve. Sometimes we do not see boundary issues for what they are because they come disguised as something else or because we like to be helpful.
    4. Try to identify when you start to feel manipulated. Is it when someone is unhappy? or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? These situations usually exist because someone has successfully made themselves more important than you.
    5. Identify when you are uncomfortable taking action. Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Is it when someone has power within your group or social approval for their behavior that makes them hard to challenge?
    6. Identify whether the challenging situation is one that lends itself to the direct one-on-one approach or a longer perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
    7. Identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else.

    Step 3: Develop Your Strategy

    As a general rule, most people want good boundaries as much as you do. Most people are not looking for unnecessary problems.

    If you respect others and treat their concerns as valid, they will likely do the same since reciprocity is an ancient rule in human relationships. Therefore when you are willing to listen the another person, it is common courtesy that do the same. It is not unreasonable to want to be listened to as well.

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    It also helps to be in a problem solving frame of mind. If you ask questions to find out where the other person has some flexibility you can then offer solutions in the form of suggestions, alternatives or even substitutes for what is being asked of you. Since not everyone understands boundaries, you may have to be a leader on finding an agreeable solution.

    If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process it would be:

    1. Establish a positive intent. “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
    2. State a concern. “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
    3. Ask questions if necessary. “We need to figure out a holiday schedule. What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
    4. Ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person. “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
    5. Get agreement. “Does that work for you?”

    Successful problem-solving is a combination of respect and creativity. When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase.

    Step 4: The Tough Cases

    The first thing you have to do in tough cases is to give yourself permission to have the problem. If you feel bad about it you will be less effective in solving the problem.

    You also need to give yourself permission to fail, because only then will you be loose enough to come up with solutions. Not everyone is cooperative and if you can accept that with good grace, it will help you to relax about conflict. It also helps to know that walking away from a conflict is sometimes necessary and not a sign of failure.

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    When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with way to change the existing dynamic.

    Here are some ideas:

    1. Change the other person’s perception of your value so that you are perceived as important to the other party.
    2. Change the social dynamic. You could refuse to interact when someone is unreasonable or use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Charm works wonders.
    3. If necessary, throw in the towel. You may have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. However, he could not hold on to the peanuts and run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometime letting go is the best way to solve a problem.

    Step 5: Implementing Your Strategy

    Your experience and comfort level should guide how you decide to implement your boundary implementation strategies. You can start with minor situations with people you know or a boundary that is very important to you.

    Step 6: The Key

    I believe that the key to setting boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around you know that you see the good in them, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.

    It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.

    Good relationships are challenging because we are all both alike and different at the same time. Just making the effort to work on boundaries is something for you to feel proud of. You are creating a better world with each positive step. Every time you find positive interpersonal solutions you essentially help reduce some of the fear and unhappiness in the world. That is a great gift to yourself and others.

    Photo Credit: Sourcecon.com

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    Last Updated on April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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