Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Loose Lips Sink Ships, and Loose Boundaries Sink Relationships

You hear a lot about boundaries in relationships, but what exactly is a boundary?

Well, simply put, a boundary is a line. It’s a distinction between you and me. You are not me, and I am not you. And so… you can’t borrow things that belong to me without my permission, you can’t talk to me as though I don’t exist (or only exist for your benefit), you can’t insist that I tell you why I said “no,” (I'm allowed to say "no," if I want, and handle the consequences of it, thank you), and you can’t interfere in my affairs that are none of your business.

That is … unless I allow you.

And until very recently, I confess that I was letting you.

See, loose boundaries go both ways. Some people are adept at stepping over others’ boundaries, and some of us are entirely too adept at letting others step over our boundaries.

As an official semi—people-pleasing blue, sometimes I let people go where they don’t belong. And this is bad for a few reasons, but the main reason is that it gives people a false sense of who I really am, because I’m a blue yes, but I’m tinged in red, baby. And when you cross that line one too many times, the one you didn’t even know existed (although I thought you should have known—any decent person would have known) Well … you’ll probably be surprised to learn that I’m not as easy going as you thought.

I was formally introduced to the concept of boundaries a long time ago, but it’s a lesson that never gets old, because people are always testing your boundaries.

As Exhibit A-Z, I bring you—my former contractor.

This contractor was doing a great job around my house. I truly couldn’t have been happier with the work.

There was just one little problem.

When stressed, this contractor would exhibit a nasty temper. And, her stress triggers weren’t exactly predictable.

Now I have a greater-than-average tolerance for neurotic, artistic types. So, the first time the contractor crossed the line, I just talked her down. (I am an HR pro, right?) No reason to take this crap personally. I knew it wasn’t about me. And so, she calms down and finishes her work, and I’m feeling pleased about my skills, and I go back to my work.

That was Mistake #1.

The second time she looses her temper, I’m not feeling as patient, but I don’t let her know that. Instead, we repeat the talk-down/calm-down/get back to work cycle.

That was Mistake #2.

The third time she looses her temper I’m simply not in the mood. Enough already. Self-regulate for God’s sake. So I say (quietly but firmly), “_____, I need you to calm down.” And oh my word, she gets LOUDER.


I’ve already written about my bias about the power of reason, so suffice it to say that when this woman RAISED her voice after I told her to DIAL IT DOWN, and here I am a paying customer, well …

I am happy to say that I neither lost my temper nor my religion, but I did state clearly, “Listen _______, YOUR STUFF is not MY STUFF, and I am not an empty receptacle waiting to be filled with your CRAP.”

So the conversation ended, and that was that.

But here’s the thing, ladies and gents.

Instead of congratulating myself on my managerial skills the first time said contractor stepped out of line, I should have said—

“Dear _____. I can see that you’re frustrated, but unless you can address me respectfully we can’t do business together.”

She may not have liked it, and maybe my work would have been only half-done, but, these are boundaries, people. They’re necessary, and nine times out of ten, when you fail to enforce them, trouble ensues.

At least that's my experience. What about you?

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