A boundary is a line that marks the limits of an area. Webster’s dictionary goes on to give an example “those two trees mark the boundary of our property.” Sounds simple enough right? I mean it’s a pretty straightforward concept. But when I say the word boundaries to a woman I am working with, I invariably get the same reaction without fail. She exhales and says something like, “I suck at boundaries!“
My clients walk all over me, my husband walks all over me, my kids walk all over me; even my dog walks all over me!
It would seem there is an epidemic of women who, though well educated, successful and informed; lack this one very important skill set. Why is that?
How Did We Get So Bad At Boundaries?
Since the Industrial Revolution, there have been very few moments in American history where women have been celebrated for stepping up and being strong. Characters like Rosie The Riveter were icons created at a time when America needed women to be strong in a way typically thought of as masculine, but when the moment passed, so too did the celebration or even acceptance of the strong woman. The strong woman would be torn down using derogatory words such as uppity, cold, manly, bitch, and worse.
In modern culture, women have been encouraged to be diminutive, coquettish and above all else, anything but what might be considered masculine.
But if you go back far enough in human history, you will see that strong women used to be revered and given a place of prominence in tribal cultures; the Medicine Women, the Shaman and the Matriarchs to name just a few.
Since the Industrial Revolution, roles that would have required a man to do them have diminished. Basically, the job landscape began to lean in the direction of jobs that were gender-neutral. Even the “manly jobs“ didn’t really require a man to do them in a lot of cases. For example, does it really require a man to operate a forklift, power saw, or to wield a knife and have a keen sense of taste as a chef in a fine restaurant?
Is it a coincidence that as jobs became more gender-neutral that women began to be pushed into subservient roles? One has to wonder.
What Can I Do To Shift The Dynamic?
People and yes even your dog, require consequences in order for boundaries to have meaning. Now you can’t start out throwing consequences around like some crazy person; though lord knows it’s tempting! If you do, you are not likely to be respected in business, nor will you be as successful in love or in life if you do that. So there are some basic steps that precede consequences.
So how does that work you say? I’m glad you asked!
Let’s suppose I politely say to someone that I would prefer they did or did not do something? That would be the first opportunity for that person to know that I have a preference right? I can’t expect them to be a mind reader, so it’s only fair that I let them know my preference in a kind manner. Now, let’s suppose that the situation arises again and they still miss the mark. This could be because they are not accustomed to behaving in the new way, so I might give them another opportunity to make a shift. I will remind them of my preference once again in a kind way. Depending on the difficulty of the request, I might give them several opportunities to accommodate my request.
If you think about it, there will be some logical amount of tries that someone might need to adopt a new behavior. But at the end of the day, if they have been given all of the tries that you are willing to let them have and they are still not shifting, then clearly they are just not willing or able to honor your request.
How To Impose A Meaningful Consequence That’s Not Spiteful.
Usually, the consequence is embedded in the request. If it is a client who keeps changing or canceling their appointment time at the last minute, let them know in advance that the next time they do this, you will have to charge them for it and then be sure to follow through and do it. Stand behind your word. Idle threats are just that... idle! If you have told your spouse that quality time is important to you and you have given them ample opportunities to accommodate that need, you can enact a consequence by letting them know that you are going to fill that time you’ve been waiting around for them with a hobby or time with your friends.
Do not be passive aggressive about it. You can let them know that you would prefer to spend that time with them; however, you are not going to wait around forever for connection.
At the end of the day, you may not get what you want from your partner, but you might discover something amazing about yourself in the process; a new talent, a new way to have fun. You may even find that your spouse comes around just by virtue of the fact that you have honored yourself with a firm boundary and consequence! If it’s your dog, well good luck on that one because let’s face it everybody is getting walked on by their animals!
So How Does This Work Again?
1. Express a clear, calm request in a kind way.
2. Allow a reasonable amount of tries for the other person to adopt the new behavior.
3. Enact a consequence if no adjustment is made.
It all starts with the voice. When we find our voice, we find ourselves, and when we find ourselves, we find our value. This is the cornerstone of how we bring our gifts to the world.
Kelly Corsino is a KeyNote Concert Performer and Performance Coach working with entrepreneurs and change makers all around the world.