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A donkey and goat interacting through a fence.

Boundary Setting = Peace

The theme of the week personally and professionally has been “set those boundaries.”

In the course of a day, I generally am met with people who are skilled at navigating emotions and feelings, because that’s who I choose to spend time with. But when I step outside my safety zone, I’m always honestly surprised at how rare those qualities can be, especially for those in leadership positions.

Many times, most especially for women in leadership, instinct and training leads us to go tit-for-tat with someone, explaining in detail your reasoning. Getting vulnerable and assuming a degree of openness and curiosity should be reserved for those who afford you the respect you have earned and deserve.

But, if you detect that they can’t, here’s the basic steps I always have to consider when I realize that I’m not changing their mind, but I also can’t get away from interacting with them.

1. Be clear about what you will or will not do, and under what conditions. Take your time and really decide what you’re comfortable with and what you aren’t. Write it down. Then clearly communicate it. Over and over. With no explanation after the initial share.

2. Be direct and do not apologize for your needs. Say it, do not defend it.

3. Expect pushback and do it anyway. We don’t express what we need clearly because we want to avoid conflict, but avoiding conflict just lets it live in your head forever and ever. Drawing a clear boundary about what is or is not acceptable ends the cycle of fear and avoidance. And remember, when people resist your boundaries, that’s a sign of clear need of boundaries. Ask for support from those you trust, even if it’s just mentally knowing they back you and you don’t see it.

4. Boundaries are for YOU to be your best self. They don’t control others; they protect you. If you want to feel creative and wonderful and safe collaborating with others, it has to be done. That also means that if you’re not finding the practice of drawing boundaries to be a constructive self-development exercise, it might be time to withdraw from the exposure of those who continually press against them, at least for a recharge.

We want to raise our kids in such away that they don’t accept bad behavior and we want workplaces that are the same. It starts with us, and it starts with clear, enforced boundaries.