Now that you have mastered speaking with kindness and listening with kindness, it is time to tackle what I think is the most difficult tenet: holding a boundary. There are many different ways to describe holding a boundary, and the definition that works for you should be the one you follow. For me it is deciding what I will (or will not) agree to or accept. Easy, right? Yeah, not so much.
It can be very hard to transition between when the boundary was set, and then using the boundary. The difficulty can be the boundary may have been set at a time when you were in a different emotional state. For example, perhaps the boundary came from a place of anger or fear after a difficult conversation, and you decided that never again would you feel _______. But things calm down, you reconsider, a new confrontation begins, and old habits kick in. (Sigh).
Or, maybe you set your boundary at a time you were calm and collected, had a chance to observe the situation from an objective point of view, and determined how you would act next time. But then the next time comes, that calm you felt evaporates, and old habits kick in again. (Bigger sigh).
So, what good is having a boundary that is never enforced? Short answer: there is no good in having that boundary. Really, there is no boundary. It is good to be considerate, flexible, and open to discussion, but in my mind a boundary is synonymous with a limit. Hopefully I did what I could not to reach that boundary. I used my other tenets to try and work through the situation with the person I was dealing with, and we did not come close to the boundary. But if I tried all that I could think of, and I cannot resolve the situation with the other person (usually because they are being unreasonable), then there has to be a limit. Otherwise, what generally happens for me is I abandon my boundary and give in on the issue, thereby creating resentment and anger for myself. Usually during these times, the issue comes back up and all the fun that was experienced in arguing about it before gets to be revisited. (Biggest sigh).
So perhaps some pointers are in order in determining your own boundaries. What works for me (most times) is:
- Decide what I will accept or will not accept. This can include what I will agree to do, or what I need from the other person for us to move forward.
- Make sure the boundary is expressed clearly to the other person. This can be during the conversation or by text or email, but the important part is it needs to be communicated. The clearer the better, and the sooner the better. Also, best not to make it confrontational. For example: if you are not comfortable when a discussion gets heated or confrontational, maybe your boundary is you will not participate in those types of discussions. Not that the other person cannot get upset; we cannot dictate their behavior. But letting them know beforehand if the conversation escalates to the point of a confrontation and you are not comfortable, then you will be disengaging. Maybe taking a short break with an agreement to resume the discussion later.
- Make sure there is a consequence for when the boundary is crossed. In the example above, once you expressed the boundary clearly, if the conversation escalates and you are uncomfortable, then you end the conversation. Please do not abruptly end the call or immediately walk away. Rather, remind the person of your boundary and let them know you feel it was crossed. Not that they did something wrong, but rather you have reached the boundary and will not participate further in the discussion. It is important to remember we can only control our side of the conversation, and our feelings may not be their feelings (who are we kidding: their feelings are definitely not your feelings if you get to this point). But again, the boundary is there for a reason. It lets everyone know what to expect, and what the consequence will be if the boundary is crossed.
- Know and understand the other person’s boundary(ies). And, try your best to follow them. Granted, the boundaries on both sides must be reasonable and workable, and if they are then you likely will be able to follow them. However, it is important to remember that just like there are two sides to every discussion/argument, the other person may have boundaries they want followed as well. If you are asking them to abide by your boundary, then you should follow theirs with reason.
If you are using the other tenets, then hopefully boundaries will not be at issue. You spoke with kindness, listened with kindness, you were positive, honest, and gracious. The rest should be easy, right? Maybe. Or, maybe the other person is not following the tenets, or not following them within your boundary. If so, then there needs to be a limit. Otherwise, patterns developed over the years will continue, and the issues that lead to problems communicating will probably persist.
To be sure we are clear: I know this hard. I struggle with this almost daily. Setting the boundary, setting the consequence, second guessing myself, etc., is very hard. It will continue to be hard, especially in these types of communications. But as with speaking/listening with kindness, this tenet takes practice. For me it takes the most practice, but I can say from experience when it works it is the most satisfying because I know that I did what I could to avoid the boundary, but I still held it when it became necessary.
It is important to remember holding a boundary is not a sign of failure, but instead you were able to stay true to yourself. And that’s really the point: to make you feel positive about how you communicated during a difficult situation. Thanks again for reading.