There’s a superpower that has the capacity to profoundly reshape your world for the better.

  • It accelerates the resolution of misunderstandings.
  • It reduces or eliminates much of the ongoing and unresolved trauma we experience from our work, our families, and our friends.
  • It improves confidence, clearing the path to pursue ideas and ambitions.

It can do all of this and so much more.

It’s only three steps to learn this superpower. But, that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Do you avoid conflict?

Conflict is not something most people seek out.

From an early age, most are taught to avoid conflict either directly, or indirectly. This can be rooted in a desire to be polite, to avoid making others feel uncomfortable, or simply to avoid the anxiety that comes from any direct confrontation.

The unfortunate byproduct of this, is that too many neglect to set personal or professional boundaries seeing it as a conflict to be avoided.

But, without boundaries…

  • we discount our services, rather than stand for our value
  • we suffer the consequences of bad behavior, instead of being clear about the acceptable conditions for maintaining a healthy relationship
  • we are harmed over and over, instead of protecting our peace and mental health

Perhaps, we could all use a little more conflict.

The Necessity of Conflict

In my book The Lovable Leader, I talk about a concept known as “Productive Conflict.”

The idea is to address problems before they fester and grow out of control. It requires you to deliberately engage in an interaction or conflict between two opposing ideas with the intention of arriving at a solution. Note that this is not about initiating a conflict to win, but to arrive at a solution.

Setting boundaries is the same idea. Put your boundary out there and let them know the consequences so that you figure out sooner rather than later the direction of the relationship.

Boundaries vs Consequences

For the sake of clarity, the following are not examples of setting boundaries: pulling away, ghosting, or cutting off ties completely.

These are consequences.

Unless the boundary was communicated prior to these consequences, these are examples of avoidance. Avoiding the problem does nothing to solve it, nor does it protect you from future harm.

Boundaries and Invulnerability

In case no one has ever told you this, allow me:

You have EVERY RIGHT to establish, communicate, and enforce your own boundaries without the need for anyone else’s permission.

Communicating and enforcing your boundaries is not an affront to anyone else. It is not rude. It is not impolite. Because your boundaries are not about them. Your boundaries are about you.

You are the only person who has to live with yourself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for your entire life. You get to decide how you want to live your life, and what you will and won’t accept.

Boundaries in Three Steps

Step 1: Know thyself

What is truly important to you? Professionally, this can mean knowing what kind of work you will and won’t do. It can mean being clear about what sort of behavior you will not tolerate. It can be having a clear line about when you will or will not be reachable.

Remember, your boundaries are yours. Make sure that whatever they are, it’s something important enough for you to protect at all costs.

Step 2: Communicate your boundaries

Once you are clear about your boundaries, the next step is crucial: you have to let people know what your boundaries are.

You can pro-actively tell people about your boundaries upon first meeting them, or you can share those boundaries as people either approach or cross those boundaries. Make sure to let people know what the consequences are of crossing a particular boundary. This can be something small such as letting them know you would be upset, or something larger such as quitting, calling HR, or cutting off a relationship.

Step 3: Enforce your boundaries

Enforcing your boundaries means accepting that you cannot control anyone else’s behavior. You can only control your reaction to it. When you tell people how you want to be treated, and they transgress against your stated expectations it says more about them than about you.

You become nearly invulnerable when you are willing to honor your own needs over the comfort of those who would disrespect your clearly stated boundaries. Everyone becomes subject to the same “take it or leave it” conditions along with the accompanying “fuck around and find out” policy.

This way, when you leave or escalate the situation, you will know that you gave everyone clear and up-front notice.

Putting this into practice

Before I give my final tips for how to do this, I need to state something for the record:

All of this will be significantly easier for every reader who looks like me, a white, cisgender man. We have significantly fewer systemic barriers and our behavior is given substantially more grace including loud and angry reactions.

I am under no illusion that marginalized groups will be able to stand their ground with the same relative ease. To make such a suggestion would show an astounding lack of historical understanding.

It’s important to point this out because I also don’t want this final tip to be taken as any suggestion that those who are harmed should monitor their tone.

With that said, my final tip for how to most EFFECTIVELY state and enforce your boundaries, is to remain calm, speak kindly and softly, use I statements instead of you statements, and clearly state what the next steps would be should the boundary crossing continue.

Here are some examples…

example 1: Co-worker who talks about things that make you uncomfortable

“Hey [name], I hear what you’re saying and I can sense your passion about this subject. I need you to know that I’m not comfortable continuing to talk about it. I am interested in maintaining a great working relationship with you and I’m happy to help in any other way I can. But if this topic comes up again, I’m going to excuse myself and end the conversation.”

example 2: Family member who says something hurtful

“Hi [family member], I know you mean well but the things I’m hearing are very hurtful. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t remark about [uncomfortable subject]. I love coming to our family gatherings but if this keeps coming up, I’m going to have to start declining future invitations.”

example 3: Prospect who wants to beat you up on price

“Thanks for considering my proposal and for your thoughtful reply and counter offer. I think your project is really interesting and I would really like to find a way for us to work together. One way we could do that is to revisit the scope to better meet your budget. My hourly rate would remain the same but we could remove some of the deliverables. I believe in the unique quality of my work and have set my rates according to the value I bring to each project. However, if finding a lower rate is critical for this project, I completely respect that and I’m happy to make some introductions to people in my network.”

Protect Your House

Only you can decide what your boundaries are, which are most important, and how many you will have. One thing to take note of, if how many uncomfortable or distressing situations you find yourself in that come up again and again.

These are the places to take action, create your force field, and become invulnerable to future issues.

I hope you enjoyed this post!

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