A Lesson on Boundaries

Recently, I received a voicemail from a woman who wanted to know more about an upcoming workshop we are offering. I forwarded the voicemail to someone on my team who promptly returned her call to answer her questions. The woman was not impressed that she didn’t hear back from me directly and, quite bluntly, was rude to my marketing associate who was fully equipped to answer her questions about the event. Long story short, I don’t think we will be seeing her at our event.

Sounds like a loss. We could perceive this as evidence that we are doing things all wrong around here. We could interpret this that clients and prospects are going to think that “Meredith is getting too big for her britches,” so we should do whatever we can to stop giving that impression. I think this is what that lady would like us to think and do.

Here’s the reality: I received the voicemail at the very end of a day, a Thursday. My calendar was fully booked the next day, a Friday, with internal meetings and coaching clients. If I was going to return her phone call myself, it would not have been for 3 to 5 days because weekends are family time, not work time. I know she had pressing questions, I had a very full calendar BUT I wanted to make sure she got those questions answered. So I did what most good business owners do. I passed her on to someone who could help while I followed through on my own commitments.

But I have a theory on why she was so angry and offended. My theory is about boundaries. This poor woman has not been able to establish clear boundaries in her life and is now resentful that other people have.

What do I mean? Let’s look at the situation again. I mentioned I had a busy schedule and that there were 2 options in returning her phone call: 1) I return her phone call in 3 to 5 days; 2) I ask my associate to call her back immediately.

In my book, there were 2 options but there was a 3rd option that only exists for people without clearly expressed and established boundaries. The 3rd option was that I could have called her back at a time that leaked into my personal life. I could have called her back at 6:30 or 7:00 pm that evening, before cooking and sitting down for dinner with my family. I could have called her back the next day and been late for an internal meeting. I could have called her back on the weekend.

I don’t see those as options because I have boundaries around my work life and personal life and I don’t cross them. OK, there are exceptions – I am not perfect – but I make the exceptions very few and far between.

When you are someone who is operating without boundaries (or with weak boundaries) … when you are someone who DOES get back to a prospect at a time that leaks into your personal life or prevents you from following through on other commitments, like late at night, or all hours of the weekend … it is very easy to get “triggered” or offended by someone who has established boundaries.

My “offense” shined a light on something she needs to work on. Instead of recognizing this, it’s easier for her to blame me and say that I need to do things differently so that she can feel better about herself. Sounds pretty backwards, doesn’t it?

I want to admit that I have been her many times in my life, so none of us are immune to this. I have spent at least 10 years working on boundaries. This is not something that comes easily to many people – especially women. We tend to be people pleasers and bend over backward for everyone else. The problem is that when you do that, eventually you will run out of energy for them AND yourself. Putting boundaries in place for your life is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself.

My question to you is this: do you have clearly established boundaries or is this something you need to work on? How do you know? It’s really quite simple. If you found yourself siding with my lady in this story and building her defense, then you have boundary issues. If you found yourself feeling that what I did was poor customer service, you have boundary issues. If you found yourself saying that your work is different and that you don’t have the luxury of turning “off” because you might lose the business, then you have boundary issues. If you agreed with me and practice a similar framework for your work and life, then congratulate yourself.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT:

Begin today by identifying one area of your life in which you need to establish boundaries. Figure out what the boundary is and set the intention to follow it. For example, maybe you say “yes” to every committee at your child’s school, or whenever they ask you for help. If that is causing a problem (and in your heart you know if it is or isn’t), then decide today you will say “yes” to 2 projects per year. After that, you will say “no.” Then follow through. It’s not that hard. But it does take some effort and willpower. Good luck.

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