Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to work with a group of executive leaders who lead some of the largest organizations in the state of Hawaii. It was like a fireside chat with 12 of my closest friends–except it was the first time I’d met many of them. However, within a few short minutes of our gathering, we dug right into our topic: how to set better boundaries.

To get us started, I polled the group to see who thought they were effective in setting boundaries. The majority said, “no” to effectiveness and “yes” to wanting better boundary skills. With that in mind, we went to work.

Boundaries Defined

The path to behavior change begins with a clear definition. In popcorn fashion, we shared our individual definitions for boundaries which included, “a line of demarcation that you don’t cross”, “something that protects you”, “scope creep”, and “areas that are off-limits”. After several minutes of brainstorming, we settled on the Dare to Lead™ definition: “What’s okay and not okay”.

Check point. Notice the symmetry? A boundary doesn’t solely depend on the negative. This definition provides the essence of opportunity. A boundary doesn’t have to be a barricade, it can also be a picket fence. A few reasons this group

Barriers to Setting a Boundary

After we clarified a working definition of boundaries, we then explored the myths and barriers to setting boundaries. Common myths surrounding boundaries included, “It’s selfish, may be perceived as a sign of disrespect, may burn bridges or stifle relationships.” Boundaries is not just about setting limits, it is about creating options and, more importantly, fostering trust. Afterall, boundaries reflect one’s integrity. It says, “I think enough of you and our relationship to be honest.” That’s the stuff that binds not divides.

As you might guess, the major barrier to setting boundaries was fear of people. We don’t want to hurt or be hurt by judgment or criticism. Well friends…there is hope!

7 Tips to Being a Better Boundary-Setter

I was so inspired by this group. They shared many examples of how their attempts to set boundaries were either met with disapproval, push back, or oblivion. So, we rolled up our sleeves and identified seven considerations to boost our boundary setting effectiveness:

1. Setting boundaries feels vulnerable. Lean in anyway.
2. Remember that a boundary is a form of self-respect and self-love.
3. Get your practice with setting “pea-sized” boundaries.
4. To convey a boundary with care, share ‘what’s okay AND not okay’ so that the other person knows the their options. Example: “What’s okay is for you to disagree with my perspective. What’s not okay is that you call me bad names”.
5. Boundaries can be conveyed as a statement. Example: “No.”
6. Boundaries can be conveyed as a request. Example: “I’m limited on time, can this be done tomorrow?”
7. Remember that a boundary not clearly communicated is a mere wish.

Remember, boundaries are a teachable skill that takes time and practice. You will know if you’ve missed an opportunity because guilt or frustration will have a way of knocking on your door.

Be kind to yourself and…just…keep…practicing.