Provision #221: Establish your Boundaries

Laser Provision

What are you putting up with right now? Do people say or do things that drive you crazy? Then thisProvision is for you. Read on to learn how to turn that list of complaints into a list of boundaries, boundaries that you can establish effectively in order to have the life of your dreams.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I raised the issue of boundaries by reprinting my commentary on the subject, “Just Say No,” from May of 1999. It’s time to say more. In the two years since I wrote that issue, I have worked actively with more than 60 coaching clients and have spoken to hundreds of people in a wide variety of settings from all walks of life.

Based on this experience, it’s safe to say that the issue of boundaries ranks near the top of people’s concerns and agendas. Knowing how to set, establish, maintain, and police your personal and professional boundaries is a fundamental habit for success. No one can be successful in life and work until they master this ability.

Without clear and effective boundaries, the world will run you ragged and hold you hostage to its ever-changing agenda. With clear and effective boundaries, you will enter into a dynamic partnership with the world marked by trust, confidence, and genuine accomplishment. When boundaries are up and running well, life is good.

Remember the distinction between standards and boundaries. Standards are what you hold yourself to while boundaries are what you hold others to. If, on principle, you refuse to use illegal substances • that’s a standard. If, on principle, you refuse to be with people who are using illegal substances • that’s a boundary. The standard reflects your identity in positive ways; the boundary protects your identity from negative ways.

Do you have a clear set of boundaries? I would guess not. Most people don’t. They can usually identify the things that people say or do to them or around them that drive them crazy, but they have usually not established those things as boundaries • either in their own mind or in the minds of others. As a result, the violations continue at great expense. They compromise not only peace of mind but physical health and overall performance.

I like the process that Coach University has identified for establishing boundaries. It begins with making a list of the things that are driving you crazy. They may be little things • like someone asking you to do things at the last minute • or big things • like someone being physically or verbally abusive. Whatever they are, they are specific. That someone has a name. That violation has a date, time, and place. You know exactly what they are.

Once you have the list, you can begin the process of establishment, communication, and enforcement. Coach University has identified this as a sequential 4-step process: inform, request, demand, and leave. They derive this process from real property. If you have land and you want to protect your privacy, you inform people to stay off your property by erecting a fence and posting signs. If someone hops the fence, you ask them to leave. If they hop the fence again, you call the police and run them off. If it happens continually, with a steady stream of trespassers, you sell the property and buy something more remote.

So too with that list of things that are driving you crazy. Inform people of your new boundaries. Do this with a neutral emotional tone, not angry or hostile. Act as though your boundaries have never been violated. Post the signs. “You can no longer say or do this to me or around me.” If they violate them in the future, ask them to stop. If they do it again, demand that they stop. If they do it a third time, leave the situation quickly. Three strikes and you’re out, not three hundred and three.

The biggest challenge to implementing this process is our own fear. It takes courage to find your voice, set your boundaries, and hold people accountable. At first it may appear as though you risk losing the relationship entirely. The stakes are high when that relationship is a spouse or an employer. But better to lose the relationship than to suffer the stress of continual boundary violations. And guess what? Most of the time, people don’t lose the relationship. It simply gets better, with new ground rules in place.

That is my hope for you this week. That you identify your boundaries and that you communicate them to those who need to know. Communicate them with authority. They are, after all, your boundaries. You don’t have to justify, explain, or defend them. You just have to set, communicate, maintain, and police them. Whatever stress that may provoke in the short run will pale in comparison to the long term toleration of constant boundary violation. And in the end, you’ll have the relationships and the life of your dreams.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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