Sometimes it’s hard to set boundaries with others. We all want to be liked and to be considered open and friendly. However, people who fail to set and maintain boundaries in their life and work often find that it’s much harder to meet their own needs, and to prevent others from imposing their needs onto them.
Life coaches are constantly teaching their clients that setting boundaries is important to maintaining strong relationships at work and at home. After all, it does no one any good if one part of a friendship, marriage or work situation feels put upon, resentful or over-burdened. Setting boundaries prevents misunderstandings, hurt feelings, awkward situations, grudges and other interpersonal torpedoes from endangering your relationships. And it’s as simple as taking a few easy steps:
1. Know how you expect to be treated, and be clear about it to others. Many of us have been trained not to make demands or state our own wants when dealing with others. But consider this: How much easier would your day be if everyone you dealt with was completely upfront with how they preferred to be treated and where their boundaries are?
Do everyone a favor by speaking up about how you prefer to be treated, what you expect from them and what your personal boundaries are. You don’t have to be rude about it; a simple, “I’m sorry, I reserve weekends for my family,” or, “If you don’t mind, I would prefer to be referred to as Ms. Smith instead of Donna when we’re at work,” is more than enough to get your point across directly and politely.
2. Don’t feel you have to offer explanations for your boundaries. When you set a boundary or refuse a request, you are under no obligation to explain yourself. You’re an adult, and adults give each other the respect of assuming they have good reasons for their actions. In fact, those who do require explanations often do so solely for the purpose of trying to shoot them down. Offering explanations gives the impression that you feel that your boundaries and preferences are insufficient to stand on their own. Don’t short-change yourself – state your case, stand by your requests and don’t let others try to argue you out of your own best interests.
3. Be respectful, thoughtful and responsible when setting boundaries. It would be disrespectful to demand to be treated like a princess at work, no matter what your title or standing. Likewise, it’s completely inappropriate to require others to address you by your full title at all times simply as a way of reminding them who’s the boss. On the other hand, it’s irresponsible and unprofessional to stay quiet about potential boundary issues at work and then wind up too overbooked to properly do your job. In personal relationships, make sure you don’t set boundaries simply as a way to get special treatment, or to get out of your share of responsibilities. On the other hand, it’s not fair to others in any relationship to let a lack of boundaries create tension, resentment and other problems.
4. If you want others to respect your boundaries, you must respect theirs, even if you don’t agree with them. If your boundaries happen to be incompatible, you must either find a way of working around those issues, or figure out some compromise that will work for you both. But it’s not fair to ask one person to give up their boundaries in deference to another’s unless the situation is critical and there’s no other way to resolve it. In that case, you should take the first opportunity to allow the person who gave in a chance to be recognized and rewarded for their generosity in a way that is meaningful to them.
5. Be proactive when dealing with other people’s boundaries. If you’re unsure where another’s boundaries lie, take the initiative and ask. In a business situation, you can start by asking how the other person prefers to be addressed or how they prefer to receive communications. In personal settings, you can start by laying out likes, dislikes and other personal idiosyncrasies. In either case, most people will appreciate the opportunity to make their needs clear and reciprocate in kind.
These steps will help you become more comfortable setting personal and professional boundaries, and with expressing those boundaries to others.