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  • ybethel

Setting Boundaries Effectively

Updated: Mar 20

As a leader, you will notice that boundary setting practices can vary widely because people have different needs when it comes to protecting their space which includes their emotional well-being, their privacy, and their time.  Boundaries differ in terms of flexibility and porosity so there can be unhealthy boundaries that create tensions and even though healthy boundaries can facilitate inclusion and strengthened relationships they can also fuel tensions. 

When we think about boundaries we tend to associate them with separation. Even though it may sound like a contradiction, boundaries can facilitate inclusion when they are established to achieve this. For example, a boundary that can have an inclusive effect is respectful communication. 

A colleague always used to say to me, “It can be easy or it can be difficult, the choice is yours”. Boundary setting has both difficult and facilitative elements. For instance, if the path of least resistance is your approach to boundaries you may end up sacrificing your boundaries when people around you have no problem encroaching on them. This can make it difficult for you while you are making things easier for them. Alternatively, you may need to constantly reinforce your boundaries which can be frustrating or difficult up front, but it makes life easier over time because you are being true to yourself.

Sometimes boundary setting comes too late so you experience pent-up emotions that spill over. When you lower your boundaries, others grow accustomed to crossing the line so when you reinforce your boundaries, this will feel alien to them. There needs to be a discussion about your new boundaries and allowances for an adjustment period if the person is sincere about respecting your new boundaries.

In the workplace, compromised boundaries can happen in a number of different ways: asking penetrating, personal questions; displaying an inability to maintain confidentiality; sexual innuendo; even playing music audibly at your desk can require boundary setting. Loud behavior, gossip and peer pressure are also examples of boundary infractions that contribute social tension.

Boundaryless Persons

Some persons have little to no boundaries, as a result, they tend to be unaware that they are over stepping your boundaries because they are predisposed to over sharing, occupying or wasting your time, or requesting confidential information. On the other hand, some persons know they are pushing your limits and they don’t care about you, your needs, nor your attempts to enforce your boundaries.  They only care about what they want, when they want it.


Setting Boundaries

There are a number of possible ways leaders can interact with people who challenge their boundaries. Some people are in their element when they encounter the ‘boundarylessness’ of others because they operate similarly. Others have no problem putting a stop to boundary incursions no matter how many times they happen.  When you need to strengthen your boundaries, here are a few helpful hints:


  • Check with yourself to be sure that you are not enabling others because your boundaries are porous or overly flexible when they shouldn’t be.

  • Check your motives related to boundary setting. Are they intrinsic to you, are you being influenced by others, or are your motives balanced? If your boundaries are causing you to be excluded from important opportunities, ask yourself, “How can I adapt my boundaries so I can be challenged while remaining relatively safe?” and “How can I better align my boundaries with my evolving view of myself and my environment?” 

  • After you contemplate your circumstances, you may decide boundaries are not necessary, but if they are, think about how you will approach boundary setting discussions so that you are respectful, authentic, clear, and firm. You should also consider if you aim to maintain a relationship or not. If you choose to maintain the relationship, use empathy.

Boundary Setting and Calibration

  • Boundaries provide structure for relationships. They don’t have to shut people out, they can actually help to bring people closer.  Well-thought-out boundaries can achieve whatever you choose, whether your intent is to disconnect or connect.

  • Build trust as you set new boundaries or reinforce old ones. Maintain your integrity and emotional intelligence.

  • Use empathy when setting or re-setting your boundaries.  Without it, there can be room for misinterpretation.

  • Be willing to constantly reassert your boundaries.  People can be focused on their own needs, so resilience will serve you well.

  • Your boundaries should be well defined if you intend to effectively implement them. Flowery, overly tactful language lacks clarity and focus and can lead to boundary encroachment, especially by people who lack boundaries.

Effective boundary setting requires just enough distance balanced with connectivity. This opens the space for trust and healthy connection, where possible. Additionally, each relationship requires different boundaries so try not to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

Reinforcing Boundaries

Each relationship should have a combination of boundaries, some flexible, others not. Because relationships change, some boundaries may change and they all require reinforcement. Be mindful as you calibrate balanced boundaries because you can potentially impair healthy relationships or reinforce toxic ones if you make a mistake.

Reinforcing your boundaries is necessary whether you are resetting boundaries or just maintaining them.  This is because habits can be tough to break or sometimes people are disingenuous when they agree to respect your boundaries.  Whatever the reason, always be prepared to reassert your boundaries.  

Ignoring boundaries can be viewed as disrespectful, controlling, untrustworthy and even rude. None of these characteristics support trust, team building or engagement. On a final note, as you consider your boundaries, set them with wisdom supported by empathy for yourself and others. Don’t let bias and other types of unbalanced thinking and feeling affect your  boundary setting decisions.


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With knowledge gained from almost 40 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, a multiple award-winning author and cultural consultant.

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