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Episode 140: How To Draw Boundaries

by Heather Moulder | Life & Law Podcast

Ready to learn everything you need to know about how to draw boundaries? That’s what you’re getting in today’s Life & Law Podcast installment.

Inside today’s episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to identify where you need stronger (and new) boundaries.
  • Ways to communicate your boundaries.
  • The ONE THING you must include for proper boundary drawing and enforcement.
  • How to enforce your boundaries when not followed.
  • Specific examples of good boundaries.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:48] Well, hey everybody. I’m Heather Moulder, host of the Life & Law Podcast. As always, I’m excited you’re here with me today. Today’s topic is near and dear to my heart because we’re talking about how to draw boundaries.

[00:01:04] Boundaries are so important, y’all, to having a more fulfilling life, taking care of yourself, and actually being happy and fulfilled in everything you do. But at work, at home, everywhere. And let’s be honest, lawyers are not the greatest when it comes to drawing boundaries.

[00:01:29] I’m using this term very specifically. Drawing boundaries, how to draw boundaries. Not setting or enforcing boundaries – how to draw boundaries. Because it’s all-encompassing. It’s the whole shebang.

Now, I’ve talked about boundaries before, and I just wanted to give you a quick recap of what a boundary actually is. If you’d like to get a little deeper into it and also how to say no, because we all think of saying no as a boundary, which saying no is not a boundary. It’s just one of many enforcement mechanisms. You can go back and listen to that old episode, and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. In fact, if boundaries are a thing you need help with, I highly recommend you listen to today’s podcast and that other one because we’re going at it in several different ways here. Okay?

What Is A Boundary?

[00:02:23] Just a quick recap of what a boundary actually is. A boundary is a rule. It’s your rule for other people, for how you expect to be treated so that you can be well and prioritize your actual priorities. So they’re set so you can show up as your best in everything you do.

[00:02:47] Notice that I said, stick to your actual priorities, because we all know we end up bombarded with so many things for our attention. Other people try to pull us in, and we feel responsible just because they want or need us. But maybe those things don’t relate to our actual priorities.

Boundaries are those things that help you say no to those other things that aren’t priorities so that you can prioritize the things that are most important for you, your family, your career, your goals. Again, it’s not about the no. The boundary is the rule itself and the enforcement. The reason I say we’re talking about how to draw boundaries is because it is a three-step process, y’all. Drawing boundaries encompasses all three steps.

[00:03:47] Number one, identifying where you need more or need to strengthen them, you need to change them. Number two, communicating them to other people because it’s not a boundary if you haven’t communicated it. No one knows.

[00:04:01] And three, enforcement of the actual boundary. It’s a three-step process. Identify where you need them, communicate them. Identification and communication are all about how to set boundaries. Enforcement is the third piece. All three of these go into how to actually draw boundaries.

Okay, now let’s get into the specifics of all three steps.

How To Draw Boundaries Step 1: Identify

Step one, you need to identify where you need boundaries or where you need to strengthen them. You probably have some boundaries.

[00:04:36] Start there.

Ask The Right Questions

[00:04:38] Ask, okay, what are my current boundaries? Are they strong enough? How might I strengthen them? After you look at the current boundaries and where you might want to strengthen them and how, move on to where you need new boundaries, where you don’t have any boundaries.

[00:04:58] Determining where this is is actually pretty simple. Maybe it feels, I’ve had clients come to me saying, I don’t even know where to start. Okay, start writing down:

  • How do I feel?
  • Where am I more stressed?
  • Where am I overburdened?
  • Where do I feel overwhelmed?
  • What is actually overwhelming and overburdening me?

Start there. It’s going to show you some places where: “I said yes to this, and I really didn’t want to.”

The Difference Between Standards & Boundaries

Right now, an important note about something. As you go through this process, you’re going to identify areas where you need better standards as well, not just boundaries. There’s a difference between standards and boundaries.

Standards are your internal rules for yourself.

[00:05:48] So you might need to go through this process and first identify what are my standards for me. Right. What are my actual priorities? What do I say are my priorities? Are these things the things I’m actually prioritizing? If so, why not?

[00:06:04] Well, maybe I need a standard for myself where I say no in certain circumstances, if it doesn’t check certain boxes, it’s an automatic no. I need a boundary around that too because that’s the communication piece for other people. But I first need a standard for myself so I can even set the boundary.

[00:06:20] Standards actually come first. So it’s really important as you’re going through this process to pull apart:

  • Where do I need stronger standards for me so I can prioritize my priorities, take care of myself well, and show up as my best?
  • What do those need to be, and what does that mean for the boundaries I need with other people?

Start there.

Begin with where you feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and then look to your priorities. What are the things that are most important to me, and why are they important? Make sure you’re asking why to ensure they’re true priorities. Okay? Because sometimes we say things are priorities just because they’re on our to-do list or we feel obligated and they’re not. So get clear around your priorities. Make sure you understand them and say, am I actually able to prioritize them?

[00:07:12] How often am I prioritizing them?

[00:07:17] Where is my energy and time spent if it’s not on these priorities?

[00:07:23] What’s getting in your way of being able to prioritize those things that are most important to you?

[00:07:30] This is going to show you the series of questions you’re asking yourself. It’s going to show you where you might want some boundaries.

[00:07:40] So ask the question, where could boundaries help me with showing up better, feeling less overwhelmed, less stressed, less anxious, and being able to prioritize my actual priorities, letting go of things that aren’t that important. Where could boundaries help with that?

[00:08:01] So again, you’re going to identify some areas where you might need standards, your own internal rules that you need to follow to feel good about yourself, your decisions, your choices, your actions, and so on.

[00:08:16] Also, the boundaries, the rules you need to set with other people to uphold those standards for yourself.

[00:08:26] Also ask some additional questions.

  • What do I need from others?
  • What do I need to feel more respected?
  • What do I need in my interactions so that we can all interact in a respectable way, where we value one another, so that I can feel mentally well?
  • Where do you want or need different behavior towards you?

Again, start with how you feel.

[00:08:55] Then get into priorities. And also: some of this stuff may have come up when we talked about how you feel. But I ask this because sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t occur to you.

[00:09:09] So then we get into, okay, what about behaviors? What about relationships with people and how we relate to one another?

[00:09:18] Where might boundaries make some sense there?

Okay, so some things that might come up. A common example I hear is the colleague that constantly interrupts. Right? Interrupts in meetings, always has to put forth their opinion.

[00:09:38] Maybe you need a boundary around that. Maybe you need a discussion and a boundary around that.

[00:09:44] Or maybe you have a colleague who constantly barges into your office when the door is closed, and when you’re in the middle of deep work; you get off track because of it. You need a boundary around that. Maybe you have a mother-in-law who loves to drop by unannounced and it’s very disruptive to you and your child’s life.

[00:10:02] You  need a boundary around that. Right?

[00:10:05] Maybe you’re realizing you use Slack at work, and you cannot seem to stop checking it four, five, six times an hour because people are constantly on there, and you feel the need to always check it, which means you’re not getting much of your own work done. That’s not necessarily a boundary issue. That’s a standard issue for you.

[00:10:25] That’s an area where you need your own internal rules around when you will and will not check it. Maybe turning it off, maybe getting it off, or maybe getting off it completely and having people reach out to you differently. So that would be a standard and a boundary.

Step one, identify. Figure out where you need boundaries and where you might need to strengthen them.

How To Draw Boundaries Step 2: Communicate Them

[00:10:48] Step two, communicate.

[00:10:51] Boundaries are set for other people to abide by.

[00:10:55] Yes, they’re your rules, but they’re your rules around how you interact with certain people, and they can’t know if you don’t tell them. Let’s go to that mother-in-law example. You need to have a conversation about how disruptive it is for her to drop by unannounced and how it affects your child’s schedule. There is a new rule, and you have to explain that rule. Now, this is really important.

It’s Not A Boundary If There Isn’t A Consequence

[00:11:24] It’s not a proper boundary if it’s just the rule without a consequence. There must be a consequence attached to the rule if it’s not followed. That’s the actual boundary, y’all.

[00:11:38] Rules without consequences are not boundaries. They don’t work. They’re not boundaries. People might, because they’re super nice, choose to follow them, but it’s not really a boundary without the consequence, because most people are not going to follow them immediately and they’re not going to follow them all the time. People lapse. People have their own habits, right?

[00:11:59] The point of the boundary is to protect you, to let them know what your rule is and what the consequence is so that they understand when they go against that rule, there is a consequence. And that consequence is what’s protecting you.

A Boundary Isn’t A Punishment

[00:12:17] That’s why we say no, it’s to protect you and things that are actual priorities for you. So the consequence is really the crux of the boundary. I cannot say this enough now; it’s not a punishment.

[00:12:34] It’s not a punishment. You are not there to punish. It’s not like you are trying to teach a child; when you set boundaries, again, a boundary is a protective measure for you, not a punishment to somebody else. So the goal is not to change their behavior.

[00:12:54] This is a really hard one for a lot of people to understand.

[00:12:58] Yes, over time, and you hope that over time it works this way. It may very well change their behavior.

[00:13:08] They may realize that they must follow your boundaries to have a really good interpersonal relationship with you to get ultimately what they want. So yes, it might very well change their behavior, but it probably won’t immediately, and it may never. That’s not the point. Again, the boundary is protection for you.

[00:13:31] So it’s not punishment. The consequence, I’m going to send you away; you won’t be able to stay.

[00:13:37] It’s not a punishment-type consequence, which leads us into…

Step Number 3 For How To Draw Boundaries: Enforcement.

Enforcement means you do the thing you say you’re going to do as the consequence. And that consequence you need to have communicated as part of your communication.

[00:13:56] So it’s important when you are setting and discovering what boundaries you need, you’ve identified them, then you want to communicate them, right? Before you go communicate, you need to write out, okay, what is the boundary and what is the consequence. Make sure that works. Make sure you’re willing to say both to the person you’re going to talk to. That’s part of the boundary. And it’s almost impossible to enforce for most of us if we haven’t told them what the consequence is.

But as you’ve warned them, it’s a lot easier to say, and it’s easier for them to take as well. Now let’s go back to our prior examples.

How To Enforce Boundaries Effectively

[00:14:34] Let’s go back to that colleague or peer who barges into your office all the time. When you communicate, I’m just going to give you a couple of options, okay? Because there are a couple of ways you can deal with it. Again, you get to choose how you deal with it. There are many ways to deal with a colleague who barges into your office all the time.

Perhaps you tell them, hey, every time you barge into my office, it’s really disruptive. Typically, it’s when my door is closed.

[00:15:07] When my door is closed, it means I’m doing deep work and cannot be interrupted. Please do not come into my office. Don’t even knock on the door. Just send me an email instead, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Now, here is the actual boundary, and this is important to communicate:

[00:15:27] If you choose to barge into my office, the next time that happens, I am going to send you away without answering your question. In fact, I’m going to stop you. I’m not going to let you explain anything. I’m going to say…

[00:15:40] I need you to send me an email. I’ll get back to you when I can. Thank you. And I’m going to expect you to close that door and walk away.

[00:15:48] That’s the communication and enforcement. So the next time they come, and your door is closed, and they open up, you stop them and say, hey, remember we talked about this? I told you that if you opened my door when it was closed, I wouldn’t be able to talk to you. I need you to step away. I’m in deep work. Please send me an email. I’ll get back to you.

[00:16:11] That’s the enforcement piece. Again, you’re not being mean. You’re not trying to punish them. You’re enforcing your boundary.

What A Boundary Isn’t

[00:16:19] A boundary, as I said, is not a punishment, but it’s also not a mandate. It’s not a threat. It’s not an ultimatum. It is not there to change other people. It is there for you and you alone.

[00:16:40] Let’s go to the mother-in-law situation.

[00:16:43] You tell them, hey, love that you come over, but I need you to start scheduling it ahead of time. The next time you want to come over, please reach out. Sometimes I can accommodate you immediately, other times not. But I will be honest with you. If I can’t accommodate immediately, we’ll schedule something. If I can, I’ll let you know.

[00:17:04] But if you stop by unannounced, I’m going to ask you to leave because it’s incredibly disruptive. To my work, to my child.

[00:17:14] I can’t have that happening anymore. Then the next time they do it, you say, you know what? We talked about this. I need you to call me later today to schedule a time. Thanks for stopping by, but we don’t have time right now. And kindly don’t let them in or let them back out. That’s how you draw a boundary.

[00:17:35] Identify, communicate, enforce.

A Note On Being Flexible With Your Boundaries

[00:17:40] Now, a quick note: you can be flexible at times. Okay, so there is sometimes flexibility to our boundaries, just like there’s flexibility to our standards.

[00:17:54] But you must ensure that you’re not so flexible that you become resentful or bitter for having allowed yourself not to fully enforce your boundary.

[00:18:06] And when it happens, let’s say that interrupting colleague, right, or that disruptive colleague that likes to barge into your office. Let’s say it’s a true emergency, they really do need your help immediately and they’re just freaked out.

Maybe you make an exception that time. Perhaps there’s room for flexibility, and you totally understand in that one occasion. You want to ensure you notify them of that. Look, I’m making an exception to the rule for this reason. Just be sure you know this is not something that should happen again.

You can be flexible. Make sure you’re doing it in a way where it’s reasoned, intentional, and you’re not bitter or resentful about your own flexibility.

All right, y’all, that is it for today. I hope today’s discussion enlightened you on how to set, communicate, and enforce better, stronger boundaries for you and also enabled you to understand the differentiation between internal standards, external boundaries, and the purpose for boundaries.

[00:19:20] The purpose being protecting you. Not a punishment, not an ultimatum, not a threat, not mandating a change in somebody else’s behavior.

[00:19:31] It’s just about protecting you and you alone. We’ll be back next week with another guest. Bye for now.