Setting Clear Boundaries by Lee Hogan

An Essential Skill for Managers

People expect us to stand up for our rights and to clearly express our needs. They have more respect for us, research shows, and they learn very fast how to treat us. 

As an example, when I say “no”, I shouldn’t feel guilty. I have rights, like the right not to offer any excuses for my decisions or my behaviour, or the right not to always please others. What it comes down to is having the courage to risk offending or turning others off. Nonetheless, I am truly powerful when I firmly set boundaries.  

You know how people run their games on us. They try to take our power. Then, unfortunately, we make the mistake of not expressing our truth and our honest feelings. We end up stewing about it like a victim. We get sucked in too easily to others’ games and manipulations and then we get mad at them and ourselves.

We too easily take the hook. People knowingly or unknowingly put hooks out there based on their own issues or weaknesses. If we succumb to the temptation to play into their destructive game, we become co-conspirators with them and they have won. It’s not intentional, but it is a major source of conflict and fear.

There are smart ways to be powerful in an organization or in a close relationship without being arrogant or passive. These are the essential qualities of an assertive leader who is consciously guided by solid values and principles:

  • Don’t give your power away when a person tries to hook you. e.g. victimizing you by criticism or blame. Keep your power by listening.   
  • You give power away when you lose it in anger, blaming and impatience.
  • Don’t lose your sense of who you are by too readily agreeing to things.
  • You define your worth and individuality by authentically setting clear boundaries and making clear requests with your personal authority.
  • Your personal vision is proof you love and respect yourself, and that  you’re clear about your expectations and dignity.
  • You communicate directly and firmly.  You don’t beat around the bush.
  • Make “loving and caring for others” part of your vision so you’ll respect them. Nurture people and appreciate them. Don’t try to please them.
  • You don’t give them any excuses or justification for your clear requests!
  • You inquire of them, if,  what you expect and ask for, will work for them? You get their agreement and partnership. It’s about teamwork and honest collaboration.
  • Encourage disagreement and friendly confrontation—never retaliate for new ideas, innovative thinking or challenges to your way of doing things.
  • Never “give back what you got”—know that a person is in their stuff—don’t get hooked, or you might end up trampling over their boundaries and escalating. They may want you to retaliate and dump on them. Don’t.

Controlling Others Shows No Respect For their Boundaries

  • Take risks with others and trust that they will perform excellently–stop fixing them. Stop controlling them. Empower them and challenge them!
  • Give them enough training and mentoring to make sure they’re ready. Request specific training for yourself, if you think you need it.
  • Stay out of their hair and don’t micro manage—nothing drives an employee more crazy than to have the boss hovering over them as if they were children. And, have integrity around your promises. Keep them.
  • Be tough. Challenge others so they can excel and perform with pride. No punishing or demeaning them, just tell ’em they can do much better and you’re behind them 100%! This beats people-pleasing and phoney praise.
  • Ask questions in a supportive way so it does not appear you’re a policeman or a parent. But, be tough, if it is called for. Be a warrior.
  • Be congruent in your body language and non-verbal communication—openly truthful and sincere. Avoid showing hidden (but obvious) annoyance. Our facial messages and eye contact tell a strong story, positive or negative. Without a word, others know exactly what you are thinking and feeling. You can’t cover up an invalidating, demeaning behaviour.
  • If you can’t change your heart, at least drop your “looks” and non-verbal language of judgement and disapproval. Give up being a “ parent” to others. They secretly hate you for it. They’ll be submissive in appearance.
  • Assertive language and behaviour is never controlling–even saying clearly, you’re angry, is assertive. Aggressive behaviour (getting angry) is acting out. Manipulating. It creates fear and distrust and leads to wide scale lying.
  • “Treat a person unevenly and they will get even”. They’ll covertly sabotage you and your project. They may not even be aware of what they are doing. To punish yourself, you often fall into self-sabotage. It’s common victim behaviour. You regain your power by leadership and by being accountable.
  •  Blaming is a way to control others–it creates powerlessness–it is punitive.
  • Appreciation and compassion are ways to get people to believe in you and in themselves. They’ll be more motivated to make a real difference.

Follow the above guidelines and you will enjoy very good relationships at home, on the job, and with friends. Ignore them because “you want to be nice and not make waves”, or you feel like chewing out someone, and it is a sure way to end up not being trusted by others. Your power and credibility are at stake.

It is hard to be authentic in your life. To be congruent and in integrity. There are always risks in telling the truth in a straight and candid way. And in a tough-love way, if that is called for. But, always in a respectful way. The opposite behaviour always brings unhappiness and pain and, inevitably, a loss of your power. 

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick