Setting boundaries

July 22, 2016

 

All of us have to deal with people in some shape or form. Although I have primarily worked in technical roles for companies, I always have worked with a lot of people in my role, whether it was with my own business or working directly for a company. Working with people can be great, however, it can sometimes be stressful, and there are certain people who can be extremely demanding. Probably one of the most important things to do in any relationship is to create boundaries. Every healthy relationship has boundaries: your marriage, kids, parents, boss, employees, and customers. I think all of us struggle with boundaries to a certain extent. You may have customers or other people in your life that constantly ask for extras. The first or second time doesn't seem so bad — after all, you want to help that particular person or do the extra thing that is needed for them, right?

 

Doing the first or second favor seems OK, however, there are people that keep asking for favors, time, or discounts. There comes a point where you start to feel queasy while saying “yes”. You then start to think about how you can say “no”. You may have a project or two where the scope becomes larger and larger, and you don’t know how to exactly to say “no”.

 

This all involves boundaries.

 

Boundaries make each relationship functional and healthy. It allows you to understand who you are and what exactly you will and will not do. Boundaries keep you functioning well in a particular relationship (personal, customer, or business), and prevents you from burning out.

 

Create a list of boundaries

 

A good way to create or solidify your boundaries is to write them down. You can write down boundaries for any and every area of your life. Some examples that may pertain to your customers or business include:

 

1) I will not work on Sundays.

 

2) I will perform a maximum of two extra tasks. The customer will be charged for any extra requests.

 

3) I must be notified 24 hours in advance in order to cancel an appointment.

 

4) I will turn clients down who expect a rush job. Each project requires 4 – 6 weeks of time.

 

5) My maximum client load is 3 active projects.

 

You can create similar lists for your personal relationships and other areas of your life. Sometimes it is not easy to set these boundaries. If you have a new business, then sometimes you take assignments that you would prefer not to do. I have worked in many situations where the company did not have clear boundaries, which affected both my personal and work life. The lack of “boundaries” was the norm in some of these corporate environments. However, we always still need to set our own boundaries and expectations.

 

Many people will test your boundaries

 

The more sure you are of your boundaries, the less that the boundaries will be tested. If you firmly and effectively state your boundaries, then often the person/client/customer will stop trying to test them. If you are unsure of your own boundaries, then they will continue to get pushed and tested until you get emotionally involved. Almost all customers that I have worked with in the past have been great to work with, however, I have had a few that would not take “no” for an answer, and even became threatening and verbally abusive when I refused to work with them any longer. In hindsight, I now see that if I drew my boundaries from the beginning, the situation would have never gotten to that point in the first place.

 

Boundaries can be tricky

 

If you have your own business, I recommend that you create policies around your boundaries, so that they are easy to present to your customers. If you have a service-based business, then you can provide a set of requirements that the customer must have ready before you work with them. Many customers will appreciate the structure, and will abide by the rules that you set for them. Create similar personal boundaries so that when you interact with those who do not have any, you can stay firm in your beliefs and you can stay strong mentally with your decisions.

 

Learn to say no

 

I know that the common motto in business is “the customer is always right”. Although I am naturally very customer-service oriented, I do not agree with this statement. I will give you a (common) example based upon my experience.

 

When I had my own fuel cell company in the past, I sometimes conducted custom research and development and/or prototype design for my customers. I usually outlined the research, reports, and/or code that would be provided to the customer in a proposal that was signed by myself and the customer. I had one customer in particular that said that he expected a prototype that generated a higher amount of electricity. This particular prototype was a custom product that he would not be able to obtain anywhere else. Since this was not a common response that I received from a customer, of course, (thinking that the customer is always right), I rebuilt the prototype (at no extra charge) to try to improve the efficiency. Well, you could probably imagine what happened next — he kept asking for more and more. This project in particular burned me out. However, this was entirely my fault. I should have had more well-defined boundaries before the project was initiated.

 

You need boundaries

 

If you are feeling dread towards a person, customer or project, it may mean that you have not established an effective boundary. Set boundaries early and often, and do not be afraid to make people aware of these. Boundaries often stem from knowing yourself and your wants and needs in life. Boundaries are not the same for everyone. Having clear boundaries will ultimately save you money, time, and stress.

 

What type of boundaries would help you to improve your interaction with customers or other relationships in your life?

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