How to set better boundaries

By Heather Campbell

I’m a practical person and I don’t like a lot of the metaphorical speak that’s around in business: how about all the people who ‘reach out’ to you? Or the ‘journey’ you’re on? And I’m tired reading about people who have ‘opened up’ about a topic.

But there’s one that I do like and use a lot. It’s the metaphorical need to set boundaries (if you hate that one and I’ve just sent you screaming for cover – bear with me 😉).

Boundaries, whether physical or metaphorical, are crucial for many reasons. The metaphorical ones:

  • Make it easier for our teams to deliver because they know what’s expected of them
  • Enable us to set our expectations and to protect our time, our energy and our priorities
  • Show we respect ourselves and others
  • Reduce uncertainty caused by lack of clarity or direction
  • Give us a way to stop others imposing on us to our cost

But many leaders are incredibly bad at setting boundaries, and even worse at sticking to them.

Ever intend to get out of the office at a certain time and yet find yourself there hours later?

Maybe you find yourself saying ‘Yes’ because you fear offending the other person if you say ‘No’?

Or perhaps you even find that the only way you can set boundaries is when you’ve been pushed to your limit and you finally snap? Not the best way to lead or communicate 😊.

Here are 5 primary reasons people struggle to set effective boundaries and then stick to them.

  • They’re people pleasers – and so they meet others needs at their own expense, believing that setting boundaries is rude or will damage relationships. Good boundaries will do the opposite because they bring clarity and remove misunderstandings.
  • They’re not sure what boundaries to set or haven’t had time to figure out what they really expect and need, and so they hope others will figure it out somehow. They won’t, they’ll just be confused or go off in the wrong direction.
  • They think that lack of boundaries means they’re empowering others. Clear boundaries are essential for effective empowerment. If people don’t know where the boundaries are, they are less likely to take action because they don’t know where their freedom to make decisions or take action begins and ends. You’ll end up with a team that relies far too heavily on you for everything.
  • They believe people should know what’s important to them already – this is a favourite for many leaders ‘I thought they’d know what I needed’. Play it safe – don’t assume.
  • They believe people should be able to ‘work it out for themselves’ – guessing games are rarely productive; clarity allows other people to invest their energy where they need to – delivering the results you require.

Which of the examples above resonates most for you? And how can you set better boundaries?

It all begins with getting really clear about the boundary you want to set and then understanding what underlying beliefs stop you expressing that boundary. When you change the belief, you’ll find it easy to set the boundary.

Could more boundaries help you take back control? If you want to delve deeper into this, you will most likely be interested in my signature programme “The fastest route to Director-Level Confidence so you can influence and lead without being undermined.”

Leave a comment below if you’d like more information.

And, as always, observe yourself and others with interest and learning, not with criticism and judgement.

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