“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable we feel used and mistreated.”
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
So right on, two quotes by my favorite truth speaking “Researcher. Storyteller. Texan.” Brene Brown
I’ve been a people-pleaser my whole life. I’ve wanted to be liked and called “a team player” even while completing tasks that I hated. I’ve said yes to a million things that I wish I’d known how to say no to. I wish I could get those moments (ok, hours or even YEARS) back so I could spend them doing something else.
So when people ask me, “How do I say no without being seen as ‘difficult’? How do I push back without being labeled ‘not a team player’?” I know that saying “DO THIS!” and actually DOING IT is hard.
Understanding and setting boundaries is a fundamental skill you need to live a balanced life.
A while ago I spoke with my friend Kwame Christian on his podcast about this topic. If you like to listen, click HERE. In my opinion, listening to the conversation is way more entertaining because Kwame and I have a fun rapport together.
If you prefer to read, below is a summary of what we talked about with some added content (because what I say doesn’t always read as well as it sounded at the time!).
What is a boundary?
Think of yourself like a tree, with deep roots that are your morals and values, holding you up and keeping you strong, even when there’s a big storm or a tense conversation or a disagreement.
Now think of setting and maintaining boundaries as if you put a fence around yourself as that tree.
Without that fence everybody can walk all over your property. You say, “yes” to everything. You end up working long hours and agreeing to volunteer on too many projects at your kid’s school.
Healthy relationships have boundaries, or limits that we put in place to protect ourselves, like a fence around your tree.
In business (and life!), you’re building and maintaining relationships all the time. Without clear boundaries, if you don’t know how to say No, people walk all over your land and you start to get burned out or resentful. You may start acting in ways that you don’t like because your exhaustion or resentment eventually spills out.
You can’t go outside and yell at kids to get off your property when you don’t have a boundary in place.
THREE THINGS TO DO TO CREATE AND MAINTAIN BOUNDARIES
Boundaries are created by understanding what you want and what they want. Without this foundation, it’s very hard to say Yes and No with confidence.
It’s like going into a meeting and saying, “OK, we have every single option in the world available to us” versus going into a meeting and being specific about what you need, want or expect.
“The most difficult thing about communication is that we often believe that it has occurred.” – Kwame said in our conversation.
(If you’ve changed your mind and now want to listen to it click HERE)
STEP 1) What you think: Be clear about what you want.
Be clear in your mind about what do you want. Women often overlook or diminish your own needs. Call it a predisposition to be a caretaker, to think about what other people need before yourself. It’s ok to do both, but in many situations you may be saying YES all the time because of what you think other people want without considering yourself enough.
It’s okay to want more. More time with your family, more time for yourself. More money, more prestige. More authentic connections and more connected relationships.
Take the time to think about what you want and what they want. Your #1 success indicator is taking the time to prepare.
As you talk to the other person and find out what they want, what’s important to THEM, you may move your fence around. And that’s fine! You’ll always be dealing with the human unpredictability factor. Things will happen that knock you off course and things will go wrong. People may not tell you the truth. They may only tell you some of the information. And you may ask a question that gets you new information that you weren’t expecting.
STEP 2) What you say: Use clear statements.
If the other person isn’t clear about exactly what you want after you’ve articulated your “ask” then you aren’t being clear enough.
For example, if we have a deadline coming up, I’d be CLEAR by saying, “Kwame, I’d like that report by Friday.”
Then be quiet.
What we tend to do is add a million reasons, “Kwame, I’d like that report by Friday because my boss is coming and I need to prepare over the weekend and I have to fly out Monday morning…”
This diminishes your credibility in a huge way.
Words you can use to be clear
Use “I want” or “I need” but personally I’ve had great success with “I’d like.”
- “I’d like to hear your ideas.”
- “I need to hear back from you by Friday.”
- “I’d like to meet before the end of the day.”
- “I’d like you to connect me with that person.”
- “I’d like for you to write me a recommendation on LinkedIn.”
- “I need your expenses in by the end of the week.”
- “I expect you to meet your commitments.”
Words to watch out for
You may find yourself using verbal softeners that diminish your power and credibility.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- “Just” is a permission softener and implies that you don’t deserve what you’re asking for.
“I just wanted to check in…”
“I’m just following up…”
“I’m just wondering what the status is…”
Instead of, “I just wanted to check in…” Say, “Let’s get some time on the calendar to check in.”
Or just delete the just and see what happens!
- “A little bit” is a minimizer softener. It doesn’t matter how important the topic is, when you minimize it, you’re minimizing you.
Instead of, “I’d like a little bit of your time to discuss…,” be specific. Say, “I’d like twenty minutes to discuss…”
- “Sorry” when you’re not actually apologizing for something is an unnecessary politeness softener.
“I’m sorry, but can you turn the music down?”
“I’m sorry, can I have a new fork? Mine fell on the floor.”
“I’m sorry, is that seat taken?”
“I’m sorry, are you busy?”
Instead of, “I’m sorry, are you busy?” Say, “Do you have a few minutes now or should we schedule a time later?”
Delete these softeners out of your language and your emails! When you use them, your fence starts to BEND. When you walk by a fence, you don’t question it. You say to yourself, “Oh, that’s a fence.” It’s a barrier. But when you show these weaknesses in your language, others wonder if your fence is really a fence. They start to think that they can probably move your fence with a little resistance. And suddenly your credibility is shot, you’re a pushover, someone who can easily be manipulated.
Someone who will always say yes.
STEP 3) What you do: follow up with clear agreements.
Your goal here is to be clear about next steps, to confirm agreements and clarify who’s doing what.
Being clear in these follow up steps will help you avoid misunderstandings that create emergencies later on.
1. Confirm who’s doing what, by when.
2. Gain alignment to be sure you’re all on the same page.
3. Document and agree to avoid misalignment on deliverables. Email to document next steps.
When you document, you can catch misunderstandings early and realign as needed to be sure you aren’t delivering on the wrong things or the wrong times.
What can you do when you realize you were wrong, that you need to reset new boundaries?
Here’s the most important thing to know about boundaries…you WILL often have to change them. You WILL often have to or want to move your fence.
If you’re doing it right, things will emerge in your conversations that you didn’t know about before you talked with the other person.
Maybe you set your goals too low, which you realized when you went into the meeting and found out that the other person has a much tighter deadline than you thought.
Maybe they want a lower price so you have to remove something from your proposal.
Maybe you find out that they are new in their job, so you can assume that they want to look really good to their boss…you’d want to think about how you can make them look good but still get what you need.
So your fence may not change square footage on the property, but one side may come forward and another side may move back.
For example, you may want a higher salary or hourly rate. Maybe money is not negotiable. Your fence moves around with options like other things that you want. Things like timelines, deadlines, paid time off, working from home, testimonials, introductions to other people who can help you and so on.
Your boundaries on your property need to be flexible, you need to be able to move your fence, acquire more property to help you grow or change. But you need to build your fence, create your boundaries, before you can decide with intention that you want to move them.
If you don’t have boundaries, you have an open field that goes on forever.
Kwame and I did a role play, listen to it on the conversation HERE
Look for an upcoming email/blog post on “How to say no” coming soon!