Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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:

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    Maria Hill

    Maria Hill is the owner of Sensitive Evolution, an online platform dedicated to improving the lives of highly sensitive people.

    40 Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes Imagination: The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself for 2013 20 Ways Gratitude Improves Productivity How to Create a More Hopeful Life Simple Steps to Move Forward So That Success is Inevitable

    Trending in Communication

    1 7 Hardest Languages to Learn For English Speakers 2 8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener 3 11 Tips for Maintaining a Positive Attitude Every Day 4 What Is the Meaning of Life? A Guide to Living With Meaning 5 How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

    Advertising

    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

    Advertising

    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

    Advertising

    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

    Advertising

    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

    Read Next