Why Your Boundaries Aren’t Working

Anger is often a sign that a boundary has been crossed. Learning how to set appropriate boundaries is difficult, but it will change your leadership and your life. You may need to set boundaries with yourself to be more effective, or you may need to set boundaries with a friend, co-worker or employee. This post is all about boundaries and why your boundaries aren’t working.

Boundaries With Self

A boundary puts a frame around your choices. For example, you set a boundary not to look at your cell phone during meetings, or when having dinner.In this case, you set boundaries for yourself. Setting boundaries with yourself keep you disciplined, focused, and intentional. Setting good boundaries with yourself helps you to take control of your habits and productivity.

The ability to set boundaries with others is another skill you must master if you want to be an effective leader.

Boundaries With Others

One reason for relationship drama is the inability or unwillingness to set appropriate boundaries. A boundary is only a boundary if you control your choices or if you can control the consequences.

For example, you can say “no,” or you can walk away, or you can distribute the discipline if someone crosses the boundary.  It sounds easy enough yet most of us have very blurry lines in our personal lives. We stay on the phone with negative Nellie, and we loan money or tools and don’t get the courtesy of reimbursement or returning our items.

In leadership we tend to keep the bigger boundaries; for example, if you are caught stealing you will be fired. (You can’t control whether or not an employee steals, but you can implement the consequences.)  Leaders seem to have more difficulty on the smaller infractions. For example, you tell your account manager if she doesn’t make the required outreach calls, there will be consequences, but you are vague and inconsistent on follow through. How do you put boundary-making into practice?

Help! My Boundaries Aren’t Working!

Let’s say you set a boundary with a friend who calls too late and keeps you on the phone. You set a boundary and say, “You cannot call past 9:00 PM.”
They call you at 10:00 PM and you wonder why your boundary didn’t work.
Here’s why: You answered the phone!!

The same types of conflicts happen in the workplace. You tell the employee if they are tardy again, you will have to put them on probation, but they keep coming in late. Why? Because you keep allowing the behavior.

  • You feel sorry for them.
  • It’s the company picnic.
  • You really really like them.
  • You don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Resolving the Conflict

You have to want your boundary more than you want the approval of others who are affected by your boundaries. You must learn how to have performance conversations about the unwanted behavior even if it makes you and the other person uncomfortable. Only set boundaries you intend to enforce. It’s better not to set a boundary if you can’t enforce it.  Notice your anger and see if setting a boundary could lower the temperature.

What boundary do you need to set? Is it with yourself or with others?