Boundaries - Your Courageous Conversation Early Warning System
Updated: Jun 20, 2023
I recently spoke to a group of amazing leaders and throughout the discussion of Courageous Conversations, we talked A LOT about boundaries. It was the topic that got the most reaction, with people recognising some of their own boundary habits and joining the dots between well-established healthy boundaries and Courageous Conversations.
What do Boundaries have to do with Courageous Conversations? Well, everything!
The two really go hand-in-hand because knowing your boundaries is like an early warning system for Courageous Conversations - letting you know WHEN you need to have one.
On the one hand as a society we are much more open and aware of the need for self-care and wellbeing - boundaries definitely come under this banner. And, we’re also expected to be ‘always on’ and ‘more connected than ever’. So boundaries can have a bit of an image problem. When you flip the script from boundaries as barriers to boundaries as positive and protective, the benefits are clear. This is not about putting your foot down and saying ‘no’. In fact, when we understand more about boundaries in both our personal and professional life, we can avoid a lot of meltdowns!
When a boundary is crossed
Being really clear on what your boundaries are means that you’re able to regulate and recognise when something (or someone) goes too far. Boundaries are about establishing what’s okay for you and, more importantly, what's not.
Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of a comment, suggestion or question that left you squirming, and later on, fuming(!)
Usually, you'd smile (cringe), nod, perhaps take a swallow and walk off feeling a little hot and flustered... As you’re walking away you usually think of a hundred witty and clever comebacks you could’ve said.
Later that day you might be relaying the event to your partner or friend, and that feeling of frustration returns. You might find yourself replaying the conversation or scenario over and over in your mind. This kind of rumination can make us feel anxious and it can also, if we can get off the treadmill of negative thoughts, help us to prepare how to respond the next time the situation arises. When we are frustrated to the point of rumination our boundaries have been crossed. Racing thoughts and racing hearts are also signs boundaries have been crossed - as is just a general feeling of something being ‘off’.
But what if we knew what our boundaries were? What if we already had a plan in place (and a response in place) so that we could react in a productive way? Have you ever sat down to really think about what your boundaries are?
It’s a lot easier to respond in a productive way when we know our own boundaries rather than waiting until someone crosses them to realise what they are.
When you’re trying to figure out your boundaries, some things to ask yourself include:
· What do you stand for (and against)?
· What are your values and principles?
· What’s okay for you?
· What’s not okay?
· How far are you prepared to go before you say something?
· Think about a time when you have felt uncomfortable or frustrated - explore those feelings to identify what is really coming up for you.
Once you’ve identified your boundaries (and you don’t need to set a lot at once, you can just start with a few), it’s important to clearly communicate them and consistently reinforce them.
If you’re a leader, let your team know what your boundaries are (while you’re at it, check in with them to see if there are some boundaries of theirs that you’re unaware of). You could make setting boundaries a team activity.
If you’re a business owner, perhaps having information on your website, or setting the expectations early will mean your customers or clients are well aware of your boundaries, making the working relationship much smoother.
The pandemic-induced move to working from home has eroded many of our conventional work boundaries, with people feeling obliged to be checking emails at all hours of the day and night, working weekends or taking on more work. Having clear boundaries around when you work, when you are contactable, and when and how you will respond, lets everyone know what to expect and will positively impact productivity.
Instead of being restrictive, knowing and reinforcing your boundaries is an empowering self-care move that means you can better deal with difficult situations when they arise.
So you’ve identified and set your boundaries. You’re trying to consistently reinforce them but sometimes you are met with resistance.
We’ve been conditioned to not react or respond in uncomfortable moments. We’ve been taught that to pull someone up on crossing our boundaries, well, it might hurt their feelings. And when faced with a confrontation we can go into protection mode (fight, flight, or freeze).
What do you say when someone continually pushes your boundaries?
Quite simply: "That’s not okay (for me)." You can say it out loud, or practice saying it in your own mind until you're comfortable enough to respect your own boundaries and say it out loud. It is also perfectly fine to say "I need to think about it" when you are feeling under pressure to commit to something. And let’s not forget, "No." is a complete sentence.
I would love to know if you’ve got some boundaries, how you set them and how much it’s changed the way you work and live.
Here’s your #couragechallenge
If you have someone who is continually pushing up against your boundaries, what would you love to say to them?
Until next time Eat the Frog, Get the Worm, Be the Bird, and start making boundaries.
P.S If you're looking to improve your communication as a leader and within your team, check out our most popular masterclasses - Courageous Conversations; How to actually have tough conversations, and our Communication Styles Masterclass; Understanding different communication styles, leading and responding to 'difficult personalities' and working harmoniously as a team.
Ally Nitschke is a Leadership Expert, Courageous Conversation Specialist and Speaker. She has been working with leaders and as a Leader for over 15 years. She is on a mission to change the way we communicate at work, to lean into those uncomfortable conversations and lead with courage. Ally delivers Courageous Conversations Programs, Courageous Leadership programs, Coaching, Mentoring and Keynotes. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.