When I think about my own journey, whether it pertains to life or leadership, boundaries are one of the things I’ve probably struggled with the most.  Boundaries with friends, boundaries with family, boundaries with colleagues.  The problem with human relationships is that they often trigger reactivity in ourselves, especially if we let our buttons get pushed.  And when our buttons get pushed we often lose control of our boundaries.  And we all have buttons.  The more aware of what they are, the better off we can be at managing them and our boundaries.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment in popular culture about setting boundaries.  Telling people what’s up, how they need to show up with you, be with you, work with you.  There’s a lot of emphasis on having feedback conversations to clarify firm lines and if someone God forbid crosses the line, we’re encouraged to label this person as toxic and eject them from our lives. 

That is one strategy.  And in certain situations, it could be the appropriate one.  But in my experience if you follow the above a bit too rigorously, you’re going to end up a very lonely person who has managed to alienate just about every single person from your life.  Setting boundaries doesn’t have to look so black and white.  I’ll give you an example of something that happened to me this week. 

Silence Can Be a Boundary’s Best Friend

A colleague asked for 45 minutes of my time to prepare for an upcoming delivery that we’re co-facilitating together.  I don’t know this individual very well and had never worked with her before.  I show up to the call on time, as I always do, given that being on time is something I value and something my clients know me for.  I login to the zoom and am let into the room, where I hear my colleague speaking on another call and hear other voices as well as hers.  She pops a message into the chat – “on another call, be with you in a bit.”

Now, at this point I’m livid.  She didn’t even think to mute the call she’s already on, so I can hear what’s being discussed.  And she’s expecting me to just sit there and wait.  Rude and disrespectful are two descriptors that instantly popped into my head.

I thought about what I wanted to do.  I decided to exit out of the zoom call.  I waited a few minutes, sent a few emails, and then popped back in.  She finished up quickly after I returned into the room and our call commenced about 8 minutes late. 

“Apologies Shelley – but it was a call with a potential new client to facilitate something.  You’re freelance too, I’m sure you know how it goes.”

Cue the awkward silence.

I sat there and looked at her on the screen, and then I changed the subject.  I didn’t agree with her, I didn’t disagree with her.  And it shook her up. 

I changed the subject.  “So you’ve asked for this time, what would you like to discuss?” 

The Art of Letting Them Sit in Their S#it

As the call continued, I noticed she was shifting uncomfortably in her seat.  And I was fighting the urge to placate her, so she could feel better about the situation.  I am a pleaser after all.  I kept fighting it throughout the call.  But I fought it.  And here’s the point – sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let someone sit in their s#it.  We find ourselves saying things like, “Oh, it’s okay.  No worries!”  While we silently seethe.  We let them off the hook and by doing so we give away our power.  And then the resentment grows and eventually comes out one day anyway, but the problem is that is comes out sideways when we’ve had it up to our noses, and we end up looking like the one at fault for overreacting.

The interesting thing about that interaction was that it was a test.  She was testing me to see whether I would let her off the hook.  I could have had a straight up feedback conversation right there and then.  Laid down the law.  That would have been one approach, but it’s a risky one right out of the starting gate.  In certain situations, silence really is golden.

I look forward to the next test.  Because there always is another one…

Coaching Questions for Thought:

  • What are the situations that trigger you into please and appease, when you find yourself saying things you don’t mean?
  • What impact does it have on you to do this?  What message does it send to the other person?
  • How does it feel to let someone sit in their s%it?  What uncomfortable emotions does that bring up for you?  What would you need to tell yourself to feel more comfortable letting that s#it sit?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!