Seven steps to establish better boundaries.

Key points:

  • Your stress levels are directly linked to the quality of your inter-personal relationships
  • By establishing more effective boundaries you can significantly reduce your stress levels

Other people cause significant amounts of stress in our lives. This is often because we allow them to do so. Like a protective shield, boundaries safeguard us from others who deplete our emotional reserves and increase our stress levels with their constant demands or irritating and inconsiderate personalities.

If people consume too much of your time, invade your space, speak to you in a rude or sarcastic manner and you allow them to get away with it, they will for obvious reasons continue. If, on the other hand, you draw the line by clearly defining what you are prepared to put up with and what not, and then enforce these rules, you will stop them. Actually, the whole process boils down to the ability to say “NO”, something that you may not necessarily be good with. A few basic techniques can make a significant difference.

Drawing the line – the most difficult part!

Although the actual process of establishing a boundary is quite simple, most people find it hard to implement. The following philosophical debate illustrates why. Your friend, for example, asks you: “Shall I wear red or blue?” Unless you are going to a specific event like a sports day, your answer will most likely be based on personal preference. But what if your friend tells you he is going to cross a field belonging to a foul tempered bull know to hate red? Your answer now becomes a matter of moral choice. Should you, perhaps for the sake of mischief, tell him to wear red? It may perhaps be funny to watch him run, if you like that sort of humour, but what if he becomes injured? If so, are you to blame, or is it the bull’s fault?

If the bull cannot help but charge at anything red, can it be blamed for doing something that comes out of instinct? But if you have an instinctive compulsion to cause mischief, why can’t you use the same reason to claim innocence?

If you feel pushed around or manipulated, is it your fault for allowing it to happen, or is it the other person’s fault for being so inconsiderate, demanding and selfish? After all, if you see it in a philosophical sense, the other person may merely be acting out of instinct. The bottom line is that this sort of complexity always exists with any boundary issue, making the process of drawing the line somewhat difficult.

Seven steps to establish better boundaries.

Step 1- Keep it simple
Instead of getting yourself embroiled in philosophical complexity, take a proactive step towards making a decision. Base this decision on facts or specifics. If you are unhappy about an ‘issue’, then define the ‘issue’ as the problem. Once this has been done, stop analysing and start planning your solution. If more than one issue is proving a bugbear, start with the most annoying or frustrating ones.

Step 2- Communicate properly
Setting boundaries simply requires the ability to say “NO”. Saying NO in the correct manner will not get you into trouble, neither will it make you a nasty or difficult person. However, saying NO in the incorrect manner will, especially once you have allowed yourself to become emotionally overwhelmed or angry. Within seconds, hostile emotions are transferred between people and interpreted through subtle cues such as body language, tone of voice or facial expression. Prevent this from happening by focussing on the process of communication. Control your emotion and keep your eye on the ball.

Step 3 – Mind your manners
Being firm, fair and consistent earns you respect from other people. Being emotional, melodramatic or theatrical does not. It will be difficult to establish and enforce effective boundaries if you yourself are guilty of double standards. Raising the levels of respectable interpersonal behaviour and defining good manners means that you must stick to the same standards. Snide remarks, sarcasm, criticism, nagging, whining and hinting are all forms of irritating behaviour that should best be avoided.

Step 4 – Consider your timing
Timing is crucial if you want to get off to a good start. If, for example, your boss is personally so overwhelmed by work pressure that he/she is battling to get through the day, it may not be the best idea to insist on a discussion about your problems. Bad timing often proves a real deal-breaker. Be patient.

Step 5 – Prepare for a negative response
Do not be surprised if the other party becomes angry, aggressive, insulting, condescending or threatening. Part of your strategy should be to expect this. Avoid escalation by remaining calm and polite. Remember that the very people that you have a boundary problem with will, by their nature, be the ones who will try and domineer, emotionally manipulate or lay some sort of guilt complex on you. Look through this ploy and stand your ground.

Step 6 – Use a conflict management strategy
Whenever boundaries are defined, some degree of conflict will automatically ensure. Do not allow yourself to become intimidated by the prospect of conflict. It is a normal part of life and can be a healthy process. There are many effective techniques that you can use in order to control the process so that you can achieve a positive outcome. During a conversation, both parties continuously ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’ information. Whilst you cannot control what you ‘receive’, you can control what you ‘transmit’.

Step 7 – Avoid justification
The best way to say no is to politely say NO and then to SHUT UP. Keep your reason short and concise. Do not embroil yourself in a process of justification. Whilst the other party will most likely try and convince you otherwise, stand your ground and avoid a debate. Don’t be drawn back into an old pattern of self-defensive rhetoric that will get you nowhere in the end. Fewer words in these cases will virtually always prove more effective.