Communication Tips: Part 5

Jan 28, 2018 | Communication Tips

Communication Tips:  This is the fifth of a six part series on Communication

  1. When in Conflict
  2. Expressing Emotion
  3. Engaging your Spouse
  4. Engaging your teen
  5. Establishing Boundaries
  6. Saying  sorry – accepting responsibility for your actions

Communication Tips Part Five: Establishing Boundaries

Boundaries are an interesting thing. I am often asked what a boundary is and how do you set them?

Well if we really look, boundaries are all around us:

In sports, for example hockey, there is the blue line for off side, penalties for infractions and Referees to ensure the boundaries are followed. In this case the rules of the game are the boundaries.

At work – every workplace has boundaries – harassment in the workplace policy, times to be at work, rules of conduct and action while there. You have a supervisor or manager who will ensure the boundaries are adhered to.

These examples all seem simple and matter of fact. We tend to follow them with understanding and acceptance.

So what about personal boundaries? The ones that many people have a difficult time defining or enforcing them.

Let’s look to our friends at Wikipedia and see what definition they have for us:

“Personal boundaries”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.[1]

Thanks Wiki for the definition.

The first thing anyone has to do in order to set boundaries is to respect yourself enough to validate having them. In fact, if this helps, everyone in our world today has a right to their own boundaries. We just have not been taught to do so.

If you respect yourself enough to have boundaries you can begin defining them. The next step is to begin educating others about what they are.

So to begin, use the words: healthy, trust, respect, cooperation, honesty, safety, support, caring, compassionate, giving, and kind.

Add to these words the process of applying accountability and responsibility on others for what they say and do. The accountability and responsibility approach now referred to as the A/R approach will help in establishing boundaries in all areas of your life. You are not powerful enough to make anyone act the way they do, despite some people trying to blame us for their actions. So if someone acts out in a negative way, make them accountable and responsible and define your boundary. For example someone blames you for making them angry and yells at you. Your response is “I am sorry you are angry but yelling is on you not me.” That is using the A/R approach.

Let’s begin:

  • Healthy/respect: define healthy and respect to yourself by way of any interaction in your life. That will include the physical space you are comfortable with and the way in which others engage you.
  • If someone is too close for comfort in your personal space zone, you need to communicate that i.e., someone is standing behind you in a line for coffee. You need to turn around and say “excuse me, could you please give me some space.” Now many will feel somewhat uncomfortable with this for fear of confrontation or what the other person will think. That is where respecting yourself and accountability on the other person for their actions come into play. They have entered your space and need to be educated/informed of that. It is on them not you.
  • The same can be said for the way in which others address you. If someone raises their voice or use negative words you need to make them accountable for their actions and responsible for changing those actions the A/R approach i.e., your partner begins to raise their voice at you in a disagreement. You need to respond with: “I know you are angry right now but yelling at me is not okay, can we discuss this or do you need a break?” Again it is not about disrespecting your partner it is about your boundary of not being attacked verbally or in a disrespecting manner. We are talking about confrontation and so the A/R approach has to be implemented.
  • Trust/cooperation/ honesty/safety/ support / caring, /compassion/ giving, and kind: These words can be the cornerstone of great boundaries. They have to be applied to anyone in your life. They will guide you. If someone in your life does not apply them in good times or bad, you need to establish your boundary and educate them on what they are doing and what needs to change.
  • For example: In talking about being uncomfortable with the way your partner treated you in front of his/her colleagues at work your partner minimizes your feelings. “Oh you are too sensitive; it wasn’t that big a deal.” You need to confront the issue of feeling not cared for or that he/she is not compassionate in any way. “You made fun of me to get a laugh from your staff and that was not okay.”

Again making your partner accountable and responsible for his/her actions is important in defining your boundary. You can reinforce if further with “if you cannot see how you made me feel and will not be understanding, I will not attend any of your staff functions again. I will not be treated that way.”

A general checklist on who is a “good person in your life.”

  • If you say no for whatever reason and the response is acceptance without any guilt messages from the other person then you have a good person in your life.
  • If you can say yes because you want to then you are on the right path in that relationship.
  • If you feel safe in expressing anger, upset, rejection, sadness, fear etc. then you have a good person in your life.
  • If you can count on a person without a “scoreboard” in view then you have a good person in your life.
  • If you communicate upset in your life and the person responds by listening and does not make the issue about them, then you have a good person in your life.
  • If you have someone in your life that is accountable and responsible for their actions then you have a good person in your life i.e., “sorry for yelling at you, that was on me.”
  • If you can be yourself freely and openly and be supported and loved for who you are, then you have a GREAT person in your life.
  • If you have a person who has their own boundaries and communicates them openly then you have a good person in your life.

Boundaries are a wonderful way of honoring yourself and teaching others what they need to do to be a part of your life. Healthy people will not have a problem with your voice and need for personal boundaries. Unhealthy people will challenge you and continually overstep. So if you have someone step on your toes continually, remove your foot from their view and walk the other way. That relationship is most likely not good for you nor needed.

Good luck in establishing your own boundaries for life at home, work and in your social network.

Note: Establishing boundaries requires a sense of self and self care. Reinforcing them requires assertive and healthy confrontation skills.

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