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Setting clear boundaries is a top skill for success and happiness in life and relationships.


Quick Summary

  • Setting clear boundaries and holding ourselves and others to them seems to show up regularly as a top skill to have and part of success and happiness in life and relationships

Setting clear boundaries and holding ourselves and others to them seems to show up regularly as a top skill to have and part of success and happiness in life and relationships. Similar to other keys to success, actually doing it can be hard.

I recently listened to this episode of Brene’ Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast that gave me a new perspective on boundaries. What stood out to me was how setting and holding boundaries is intrinsically connected to our reliability and accountability.

She defines setting boundaries as “making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.” That seems logical when you read it, however it’s tough to do in practice. No matter which side you are on, standing firm on a boundary can feel “mean” or “harsh”.

However, when I set a clear boundary of what I can, and cannot do, it helps both of us know what to expect. If I have set a good boundary, I know I can deliver what you are expecting, and it will be done well and on time. That is the essence of being reliable—doing what I say I will do.

How do we set clear boundaries? I have found that often it is trial and error, and this was discussed in the podcast. Sometimes we need to back into the boundary. When we find ourselves feeling resentful and angry about something or at someone, that’s the time to stop and “peel the onion” and find out what’s going on. I recommend my colleague Dorothy Lingren’s recent blog post about our centers of intelligence as a guide on how to check in with yourself. Examining the situation layer by layer, we are likely to find that either we didn’t set the right boundary, or another person overstepped a boundary we set. Personally, it’s usually me—I didn’t set the right boundary. I’ve overcommitted myself, overscheduled myself, or said “yes” for the wrong reason. Each time that happens is another piece of learning that can be applied the next time.

Having clear boundaries means that sometimes I will have to say I cannot do something or cannot do it within the time frame you’re asking. But adding in the “what’s okay” means I include what I am able to do, and within what time frame, and why. If you also set clear boundaries, then I understand exactly what you need, and I know what I can count on from you. This is the start to a successful negotiation and clear agreements.

Prentis Hemphill, therapist, teacher, facilitator, political organizer, writer described boundaries as “…the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” In the workplace, we might substitute the word “respect” for the word “love”. When I set good boundaries, I know I can deliver the quality of work I expect of myself, on time, which keeps me in alignment with who I want to be. Thinking of boundaries in that way, they don’t feel mean or harsh at all. In fact, they feel kind.

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