Boundaries are lines in the sand. Verbal ones that we draw by telling other people how to treat us or what we find acceptable or even what behaviors we’ll tolerate.
But if we neglect to open our mouths, to speak up, to state our preferences, then others just assume anything goes. They have no reason to think otherwise.
Without meaning to, the absence of boundaries says, “Eh…it doesn’t matter. I have no limits. It’s all good! Whatever YOU decide about how to treat me is fine with me.”
Now, I get you aren’t actually SAYING those words, but saying NOTHING creates that affect.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Once again it comes back to speaking up. It comes back to the way to say it . I get that it isn’t easy to be direct and assertive, but mind-reading is not an effective alternative.
Nor is assuming others know what we want. Or assuming that they want the same things we do.
What if you had some go-to phrases to whip out when you need to stop someone in their tracks? Before it’s too late! Before there’s tension and resentment.
Stopping someone before they cross a line or before they assume they know what you want is much easier than backtracking and having a clean-up conversation.
Here are a few of my go-to boundary setters:
“Before we get too far, can you tell me what your plans are for this project?”
“You know, it doesn’t seem my feelings are being taken into account. Let’s talk about this before things progress any further?”
“It’s really important to me that ____________ (fill in the blank). Are we on the same page with that?”
“I certainly respect your needs. I’d like to talk about this to make sure my needs are being met too.”
“I tend to be direct to avoid problems down the road. Let’s compare plans and make sure we’re in agreement.”
“This isn’t really what I had in mind. Can you tell me what you’re thinking so I can be sure we agree?”
One of the real pros about saying things upfront is this: you avoid future drama! Pre-empting is a great strategy.
Here’s why. Speaking up before there’s tension may be uncomfortable. But it won’t be anything worse than that…a bit uncomfortable…because nothing bad has happened yet.
When we speak up in advance, everyone is still on neutral ground. There’s no tone or negativity or resentment. Not yet. Because all we’re doing is inquiring or checking in to make sure those involved in the issue or project are seeing things, planning things, taking action with the same point of view.
The stress, tension and resentment avoided this way is huge. All that’s needed is to develop a habit of saying to yourself in the moment, “I had better check now. I had better ask now. It will be so much easier to just ask now and avoid the possibility of drama and conflict later.”
Wanna reduce the drama in your life, your office? Start here with boundaries. Set them BEFORE things go sideways. We’ll talk another day about boundary setting AFTER the fact in the midst of tension and drama.
As my neighbor says to her three and six-year old boys, “Use your words.” I can’t think of better advice to share.
What are “your words” for boundary setting? I’d love to hear how you set boundaries at the office or home. Can’t have too many good responses to avoid drama!