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7 Gracious Ways to Set Your Business Boundaries

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It’s more pleasant to get and give support that is positively encouraging. Healthy support is the ability to communicate encouragement as well as to set boundaries in a healthy, gracious, and productive way.  That means that support is not always nicy-nicy!!

Heck, we’re human.   It’s common to not enjoy communicating “no” or bad news to people.  In fact it’s like being forced to listen to the noise that’s made when you scratch your nails on a chalkboard.

In business, healthy support sometimes means giving constructive feedback, putting an employee “on notice” or — even firing someone*.

As start-ups, it’s common to say “yes” to everything and everyone. However, as we become more established,  if we keep saying “yes”,  we end up over-committed,  exhausted, and possibly resentful. (I know!)

Or a firm may end up with many needy, time-consuming, clients from hell.   That’s often the point when they’re finally willing to start saying “no” to less than ideal clients by creating a niche.

The truth is that “no” is not a dirty word! In fact, often when we say “no” to others, we’re really saying “yes” to ourselves!  And the day will come when you need to say “no”, over and over, for your own sanity!

We need to be our own advocates and when we run businesses, it means doing what’s right for the business first.

When saying no becomes difficult, it’s time to update our communications skills, look at growing our standards (the way we treat ourselves) and boundaries (the way we allow other people to treat us), and practice, practice, practice!

1. Learn to say “No”!

Yes, support means being able to say “no”! Repeat after me, “saying ‘no’ to others means saying ‘yes’ to me.” So start saying “no” to things you don’t really want to do, and send messages to the universe about the things you do want!

There is an important distinction between boundaries and standards. Boundaries determine how you want others to treat you; standards are how you treat yourself. If you have strong standards, people won’t walk all over your boundaries. Part of the challenge is to realize that we don’t always enforce them. And yes, repeating our boundaries time and time again, is part of learning to support ourselves.  Even if the other person says we’re being a nag.

2. Learn to grow and change.

John Bradshaw, recovery author and speaker, tells a story about the two lines to get to heaven. One line will get you straight there, and the other leads to a “How to Get to Heaven” class.  Most people would take the class first!  Taking action is more important than reading. To take action on something you want to change, there are actually three steps called the Three A’s: Awareness (become aware of what you need to change), Acceptance (that it needs to be changed), and Action (you take it).

3. Learn to be assertive.

Being assertive is not to be confused with getting in someone’s face, being mean, or being a bully.  It’s more about being good to yourself while communicating with others.  The acronym below is from an Assertiveness Training Program I took while living on Staten Island.  It was created by the late Ann Johnsen,  a therapist.

C – Clarity of thoughts and feelings
H – Honesty with yourself
A – Appropriate time and place
I – Initiative (you take it–don’t wait for someone else to)
R – Respect for yourself and others (through your actions and words)

So a conversation might look like this:

  • Begin any special assertiveness conversation with “I feel,” “I believe,” or “I think.”
  • Use the assertiveness sentence: I feel _________ when you ___________. I’d prefer that you ________.
  • NEVER start sentences with YOU — the blame word.
  • If you find your feelings are stronger than the situation calls for, KNOW that the current situation has brought up an issue from your past that now requires your attention. Don’t take it out on the person who has brought this issue to light for you.
     

To tell you the truth, I put the acronym on an index card and actually brought it to business meetings for many years!   I kept it on my lap and used it often!

4. Learn to set goals and listen.

Writing down goals and taking action each day works. I learned that lesson years ago when I wrote my 5 year goals, took action on them, and updated them often. I reached most of my goals in 2 to 2 1/2 years. The downside of goal setting are many. First, sometimes people become “stuck” in the words of their goal, become stalled in the planning stage, and don’t move forward. Second, some people become so focused on the end result, that they don’t smell the roses nor enjoy the “adventure”.  They don’t celebrate the small as well as the big steps towards the journey. Third, as they move towards their goals, they don’t listen to the universe and adjust their course. So move forward each day, watch the universe for a better goal or direction, and celebrate!

5. Learn to ask for what you need or want.

Do you hear yourself complaining a lot? If so, you’re not asking for what you need or want. So learn to ask! Do you need some extra help? Perhaps a support group? 12 step recovery group? A therapist? Coach? Look for the help — it’s out there waiting for you.

6. Learn to ask yourself for support.

Write a list of at least 50 items you’re tolerating in your life–people, places, and things. Things that you think about, things you know require doing, and things you keep putting off should go on your list. Remember to include the things that you’re tolerating about yourself as well. You’ll be surprised at how much energy goes into “that spot on the wall” that requires painting — until it’s painted! What do tolerations have to do with support? When you remove half the items you’re tolerating, you’ll have that much more time to give support to yourself and others from a cup that’s overflowing with energy.

7. Learn to regroup.

If a goal you had in mind isn’t meshing, or an item on your tolerations list seems to be overwhelming, take a breather. Let it go by putting it into your “God Box,” and come back to it later. You can always talk about it with others, make some changes and regroup. Hey, you’re worth your effort!

BONUS

Learn to create a communications sandwich

Basically, in this concept, you sandwich the negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback.

Say something complimentary
Say what you need to change
Say something complimentary

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