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Boundaries Support You and Your Relationships With Others

By Trish Pratt

Boundaries are the lines you establish between yourself and those around you, that support you in caring for yourself. When clear boundaries are not established and upheld, your personal needs can become enmeshed with the needs of your family, friends, co-workers, community, bowling group, or stranger on the street. Your personal needs can become lost in the melting pot of all the needs and concerns that you have taken on. And we know that when needs get lost, they often don't get met -- making happiness elusive.

Clear and intact boundaries are not only important for having a healthy and satisfying personal life, they also support your success in business.

As a business owner or manager it's important to set clear policies with employees and subordinates. Consider creating procedures that support your needs in doing the best job to support your business. For example, to address your need to manage your time and manage interruptions, you might institute a "quiet time" policy establishing a set time each day and let people know that you cannot be interrupted during this time. You can then set another time during the day when you have an open-door policy. This establishes a clear boundary that can be easily communicated and accommodates both your needs as well as those of your staff. Creating and upholding reporting structures such as regularly-scheduled meetings with managers or key staff, or establishing clear dates for written reports and schedule breakdowns, are ways to address both your time and project management needs.

As an employee, handling interruptions may be less system-like but require more individual communication. Dealing with co-workers who interrupt your work, carry on loud phone conversations, fail to communicate new project details, etc., can present boundary and communication challenges that must be addressed in order for you to bring your best to your work. Learning to assess your needs and then communicate them clearly (before frustration or anger has developed) supports you in handling the matter directly and keeps the emotional component to a minimum. A good manager will support you in sorting through this, but your ability to address these issues yourself is empowering and makes you a less dependent, more valuable worker.

Do You Know Where Your Boundaries Are?

Take the boundary challenge...

After a long, hard week at the office, you find out that your spouse has invited your least favorite brother-in-law and his wife over for Sunday dinner at 6 p.m. -- the same time as the big football game which you have been so looking forward to watching in the privacy of your own home -- fully reclined on the couch in your oldest, most comfortable "sweats." Knowing that your spouse will want you to be present and conversational at the dinner, your response to him/her is:

a) A heavy sigh and then say "That's okay. It's not what I had in mind, but okay..." (Soon to follow maybe are thoughts of how your spouse is inconsiderate and selfish, never considers you when s/he makes plans, etc.)

b) "It's okay with me that you invited them over, but I won't be able to join you. The big game is on then and I'm looking forward to watching it relaxed on the couch."

c) "I'm sorry, but that's not going to work for me. The game is on Sunday and I'm looking forward to just relaxing on the couch. Would you mind if we were to reschedule this?"

d) Slam your fist on the kitchen table as you say "You've got to be kidding! There's no way I'm going to sit and listen to your stupid brother while the game is on!"

e) Ignore your spouse. If you act like you didn't hear that, you can put off dealing with it. Besides, maybe your brother-in-law and his wife will cancel. They might know that the game is on Sunday.

If you selected...

"a" ("That's okay.") - Come on... can you say "passive?" Where are your needs here? How well does "going with the flow" work if the result is not only your needs not getting met, but also a buildup of resentment which will take its toll on your relationship? (No stars)

"b" ("Okay, but I won't be able to join you") - Good response. You've clearly stated what you can and cannot do here. Yes, you're fine with them coming over, but you won't be able to participate. This response doesn't address your "knowing that your spouse will want you to participate" issue, but clearly does support your boundaries. (***)

"c" ("Not going to work for me") - Great response. You've stated your needs without stepping on your spouse's needs... and in such a nice and easy way. Of course, if you let your spouse talk you out of rescheduling, answer "b" will need to follow. (****)

"d" ("No way!") - A bit of anger here. A response with this much emotion behind it may very well represent a boundary difficulty rearing its ugly head. (And yes, there might also be a suppressed anger issue that is looking for a place to release itself. Anyway you look at it, not a winning response. (* - There is a boundary there.)

"e" (Ignore spouse) - "Queen of Denial" response. The combination of wishful thinking and pretending to have a hearing problem won't support you in any way. Not only will your guests probably show up on Sunday, it's quite possible you will feel some combination of anger, resentment, and frustration ending up in an argument with your spouse and only worsen your relationship with your in-laws. (No stars)

When you take your boundaries to the highest level, they are not only clear and supportive of you, they also support your relationships with others.

Clarity around your needs as well as the ability to communicate these needs can be developed and enhanced with practice and support. Consider where your boundaries might need some development and tuning, and if you'd like some help with this, consider working with a coach. Coaching can help you tighten your boundaries and shift your life into a higher gear.

About The Author

Trish Pratt works with CEOs and other professionals to help them step up their clarity, focus and become unstoppable. Visit for more information on how YOU can become unstoppable!


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