“No” is a complete sentence.
Anne Lamott, American novelist
Some time ago, this letter appeared in the paper. “Dear Abby: One of the women I work with is constantly talking about her s_x life with her husband. Some of us are bored and others are embarrassed by her daily reports of what went on in her bedroom, but no one has the nerve to tell her. What should we do?” The Office Gang
“Dear Gang: If no one has the courage to speak up, you all deserve to be bored or embarrassed. Your letter is a reminder that the meek are destined to put up with a lot.” Abby
It’s another example of Emotional Ignorance rather than Emotional Intelligence. Wherever I deliver keynotes or seminars, I run into people who don’t have the ability to say “no” with comfort and skill. They have great difficulty telling others what they want and don’t want, setting limits, establishing boundaries, or drawing the line. But as psychologist Dr. Maria Arapakis says so well, “We all must draw the line somewhere. We have, after all, only so much time and energy. How we use them determines both our success and our happiness.”
(That’s why I’m offering my brand new LIVE webinar on May 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time … called “Emotional Intelligence Ramped Up: Going Beyond The Pleasant Smile and The Chicken Soup to Positive Peak Performance.” It’s filled with skills and strategies that will make you more effective on and off the job. To register for this webinar … and receive a free book and a free audio recording as well … go to https://www.drzimmerman.com/forms/landing/emotional-intelligence-ramped-up )
1. What is a boundary?
A boundary is more than the place where two countries meet. It’s a place of respect that people do not cross without permission. A boundary communicates your likes and dislikes. Your preferences. What works for you and doesn’t work for you.
For example, someone in your professional life is probably crossing your boundary when he interrupts you when you’re in the middle of some important business, belittles your comment at a staff meeting, or gossips about you in the lunch room. And someone in your personal life is probably crossing your boundary when they make you wait beyond the promised time, interrupts as you’re talking to someone else, or shoves ahead of you in line.
Of course, some of you may say, “Big deal. Just let it go.”
2. Why should you set boundaries?
There are four key reasons.
One, self-respect. You can’t respect yourself if you don’t stand up for yourself. I know. I was that way all through high school. I wanted everybody to like me and I was afraid if I set a boundary and said “no” to some people and their requests they might not like me. Hah! It’s taken me a while to realize that no matter what I do someone is not going to like me. And if I tried to please everybody BUT myself, I couldn’t possibly respect myself.
Two, clarity. Silence implies consent. If an associate consistently shows up 30 minutes late and you say nothing, you communicate that it’s okay with you to be kept waiting. Whenever you don’t speak up about behaviors that bother you, you send a silent message that implies consent. Other people cannot read your mind. You need to let them know verbally and directly when you’re upset by their behaviors.
Three, uniqueness. What bothers you may not bother me and vice versa. For example it bothers me when one of my colleagues checks his email as I’m talking to him, but that same person wouldn’t mind a bit if I glanced at my email as he was talking to me. Because boundaries vary so much from person to person, don’t ever assume that other people are aware of the fact they’re bothering you. Most likely, they think their behavior is totally appropriate.
Four, effectiveness. As Arapakis notes, “Not setting limits doesn’t work.” In fact, without limits, you lose control of your life. You’ll end up DOING a lot of things you don’t want to do and you end up NOT DOING a lot of things you do want to do. Problems repeat themselves and relationships suffer … because people will keep on doing things that bug you if you never tell them about it. In fact, you might even label the other person as rude or inconsiderate, but he or she may never know how you got to feel that way.
You need boundaries at work. In one Dilbert cartoon, the boss says, “My open-door policy is ruining my happiness. People stop by all day long and complain.” So he asks his HR consultant, “How can I maintain the morale-inspiring illusion of an open-door policy without actually having one?”
(Obviously he needs an extra dose of Emotional Intelligence. I’ll be offering some of those skills in my brand new LIVE webinar on May 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time … called “Emotional Intelligence Ramped Up: Going Beyond The Pleasant Smile and The Chicken Soup to Positive Peak Performance.” It’s filled with skills and strategies that will make you more effective on and off the job. To register for this webinar … and receive a free book and a free audio recording as well … go to https://www.drzimmerman.com/forms/landing/emotional-intelligence-ramped-up )
And you need boundaries at home. I see too many homes that are run by the kids rather than the parents, and the results are never good in the short or long term. That’s why I respect two of my friends, Aaron and Sarah Lynch so much. They’ve established a boundary that carves out time for just Mom and Dad to talk every day without the kids interrupting.
Oh sure, in the beginning, the kids tried to push past the boundary, as any kid would. But when the kids try to interrupt, Sarah just asks them one question, “Are you bleeding?” If the answer is “no”, they’re gently reminded that this time is for Mom and Dad … and is off limits for them. And the kids respect that time and their parents all the more because of the boundary.
With boundaries so important and so very helpful…
3. Why don’t people set boundaries?
Again, there are reasons.
One, ignorance. Some people don’t know what they really, Really, REALLY want. I’ll address that in the first chapter of my upcoming book, “The Payoff Principle.” To set limits, you’ve obviously got to know what your limits are and when they’ve been crossed. Some people never quite figure this out. And some people only figure out their boundaries AFTER they’ve been crossed. They automatically say “yes” to someone’s request, only to regret it a few minutes later as they’re griping to somebody else about it.
Two, fear. Maybe you’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Of creating a scene. Maybe you’re afraid of rejection, disapproval, or being called “selfish” or “difficult” or a host of other names. That fear ruled my life for a long time because I was raised to always “be nice,” no matter what. I never even thought it was possible to be “nice” and “assertive” and “appropriate” all at the same time.
Three, misunderstanding. There’s a lot of talk in the press about “human rights,” but if you asked the average person on the street what that meant, they would stumble to find an answer. They are important. For example, if you don’t understand that you have the right to decide how to spend your time … within certain parameters, of course … you’ll have a hard time turning down invitations you don’t want to accept.
When I deliver seminars on assertiveness, one thing I teach is the “rights” that people have to understand and claim if they’re ever going to be effectively assertive. Those rights include such thing as:
- The right to ask for what you want,
- The right to make an honest mistake,
- The right to speak your opinion,
- The right to change your mind,
- The right to ask questions, and
- The right to have time alone when you need it.
Four, inability. Some people just plain lack the skill to set boundaries. You may be aware of the fact that you need to do it but don’t know how to do it. I’ll talk about that next week in the “Tuesday Tip.”
As the quote for the week says, “No” is a complete sentence.” It’s also a very powerful sentence that establishes boundaries and allows relationships to flourish.