There is a lot of advice dispensed on the interwebs about the importance of setting boundaries, including from me. We are to set boundaries at work, set boundaries in relationships, set boundaries with ourselves, and so on.
I feel that telling an anxiety-filled person to “set boundaries” is about as implementable as telling a depressed person to “do something that makes you happy.” The recommendation is too general to be useful. Plus, both statements are lacking in emotional intelligence.
In Dr. Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, she uses some language that helped me operationalize the amorphous concept of boundary setting. Simply stated, Dr. Brown recommends that we specify what behaviors are okay and what behaviors are not okay. Excellent!
In my continual efforts to make productivity concepts as doable as possible, below are three steps for effective boundary setting.
How do you set boundaries with someone?
- Acknowledge the situation/challenge. It is important to validate the challenges the other person is experiencing and demonstrate that you are situationally aware.
- Specify that all feelings and/or certain behaviors are okay. People are allowed to feel what they feel. Additionally, it is okay to act on those feelings in ways that are relationally appropriate.
- Clarify what behaviors are not okay. This is the crux of the issue. Not all behaviors are okay. You must clearly communicate what those “not okay” behaviors are.
Here are some examples of boundary setting statements:
Mother to son: “I get that you really dislike your science teacher. Feeling frustrated with her and talking to me about it is okay. Snarky comments to her during class are not okay.”
Husband to wife: “I understand that it is completely stressful when my brother visits. Feeling worried and nervous is okay. Yelling at the kids is not okay.”
Coworker to coworker: “I know that coming to my office to chat is a stress reliever. Visiting once per day, around lunch, is okay. Interrupting me multiple times per day is not okay.”
Leader to direct report: “I appreciate your passion around this issue. The emotion is okay. Passive-aggressive comments are not okay.”
Direct report to leader: “I am impressed by the insights come to you at 3:00 am. Sending me an email at that time is okay. Expecting an immediate reply is not okay.”
Your turn to practice setting boundaries…
Here is an exercise from one of my training classes (that can be delivered virtually to a computer near you!):
Imagine that you are delivering a performance appraisal to the person pictured below.
Set boundaries with this person using the three steps above.
Feel free to type your answers in the comments section below.
Your boundary-setting next steps…
- I understand that setting boundaries can be an anxiety-filled experience.
- It’s totally okay to feel uncomfortable and not say everything perfectly.
- It’s not okay to keep silent and continually allow people to behave inappropriately toward you.
Much love to you, my friends.
Are you ready to feel balanced and effective at work and in life?
Read my eBook Love Your Calendar…and be monogamous.
Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.