Your Boundaries Need to Be Stronger, Sooner

Most of us, women especially, have slippery boundaries. This often is because many of us want to please or focus more on being nice, rather than being kind. That’s right, I believe boundaries are kind. Having boundaries does not mean you are rigid or tough. It means being clear with what you expect and how you want to be treated. It means setting a playing field and clarifying the ground rules.

Clear guidelines

Image by Christina Wochin (Unsplash)

I have noticed that people who set up boundaries early on in a relationship tend to be respected for it. The recipient of those boundaries appreciates the clear guidelines in which to interact with you.

Here’s an example: If you have a pleasing side and frequently say something like “No worries, I can stay late,” despite knowing you must leave on time to pick up your child at school. When you try to establish that boundary later, it creates confusion, this is a situation that should have been declared from the beginning. Establishing this boundary as soon as it becomes necessary could go something like this: “I must leave by 5 pm to get my children on time, unless I’m informed two days before to get myself organized.”

This prevents you from becoming frustrated when you are asked to stay late last minute and allows your leader time in advance to accommodate your needs and adjust workflows accordingly while managing the overall team work.

The wonderful book by Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, states that “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” She speaks about boundary expectations that set yourself up with what you need to succeed. Creating clarity also helps you avoid developing a victim attitude because it helps you not tolerate things you shouldn’t have. Having a victim attitude can make you susceptible to behaving passive aggressively, which has the opposite effect of kindness.

Another example is getting stuck in the weeds with assignments. If you are clear with your leader and state that you want more time freed up to focus on larger assignments, they can help you prioritize and plan. But you must vocalize your boundary: “I would like to focus on larger assignments and here is how I plan to achieve it. What do you think?”

As a leader, I would expect my team to advise me on where they stood and come to me to help prioritize. Often, I would do this in a team meeting: asking for volunteers on what they can work on. If I could offer it to the group and see who would take it. I was believing people who volunteer for something will more likely do it well because they have some affinity with the topic, and everyone else was free to say if their workload was too much. This is a form of empowerment and an equitable exchange.

Set your own boundaries

Finally, leaders need to have some boundaries for themselves too. Here are some tips you can use to set your own boundaries as well:

  • Be upfront about not knowing your team’s workload 100% of the time and empower them to take the lead and push back if necessary.
  • Give your team more agency by asking them in meetings who could take more on.
  • Your urgent demands might force your team to sacrifice their time of deep thinking and deep value generation — if this is the direction you want to go on, then be upfront about tasks taking priority. If you want your team to focus on bigger picture items, then be clear that you expect them to prioritize and come to you for help doing so.
  • Demonstrate your boundaries early in your relationships: State who you are, what your expectations are, and what goals you want to achieve.

The reason we often don’t set up boundaries is fear. Fear of being dismissed, overtaken, ridiculed or of putting someone on the defensive. These fears are born of layers of limiting beliefs that erode our leadership talent.

But taking practice with setting smaller boundaries and learning that people can be receptive to them, rather than negatively reactive, can help you gradually build confidence in setting boundaries into your interactions. And it will improve your relationships significantly.

If you need help practicing or establishing your boundaries or are in a team that would like to set a more equitable and satisfying playing field, reach out to me. I can help you explore the fears around boundary setting, put it into practice in small steps, and be clear about your expectations – ultimately being kinder to those you work with.

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