Boundaries are your invisible “property lines” that define who you are and protect you from the unacceptable behaviors of others. You must communicate those boundaries to others. The goal is to have others change their unacceptable behavior when they are around you.
For some, the way of handling a boundary violation is to let people treat you any way they want. If you bury your feelings of being violated, the offender is often oblivious and will probably repeat the behavior.
Let’s use the example of dealing with a person who is always late for appointments with you. The undesirable behavior is about what’s not okay for you – “It’s not okay for me when people don’t show up on time for appointments.”
Most people will merely react to another’s unacceptable behavior. Reaction is simply that – an action triggered by an event. When we react, our feelings are in control of our behavior. Here are the three most common types of reactions:
allow the offensive behavior. In our example, you allow the person to be late and never mention that the behavior is unacceptable.
warning the individual of consequences or attacking, blaming, and alienating them. In our example, you might berate them when they finally show up then stomp out of the room with a hostile remark.
aggressive but covertly hostile; cloaked in mannerisms that look passive, non-threatening, and socially acceptable like guilt, sarcasm, heavy sighs, fake smiles, even procrastination, sullenness, stubbornness, inefficiency and avoidance. Designed to control and attack the other person in a subtle way. This behavior communicates unhappiness but fails to communicate what you want and need.
The best and most productive way to handle another person’s unacceptable behavior is by choosing our behavior. This means we do not react, we respond. Our emotions still exist, but our behavior is a choice. Our response would be:
confidence with compassion. Your ultimate goal is to create, restore, or strengthen a relationship in a way that doesn’t create a “make wrong” for your listener. Your goal is not to be right. Your goal is to have the other person willingly change their behavior.
The four best assertive responses to someone who has violated your boundaries are to:
Request – ask for the behavior you want. We assume that others know what we want and, if we’ve not told them specifically, our assumptions are probably incorrect. “I would like for you to arrive for our appointments on time.”
Inform – make others aware of unacceptable behavior. People may not be aware that they are offending you and this response makes them aware. “When you are late for our appointments, I feel like you don’t respect me.”
Instruct – tell others what you need from them. People don’t automatically know what new behavior you’re asking for unless you tell them. “I need you to respect me by arriving on time for our appointments” or “I need you to be on time for our appointments.”
Leave – when the other person is too emotional to engage in a mature dialogue with you. This response is appropriate if you have spoken your truth and the other person is not receptive at that time. “It’s not okay for me that you are late for our appointments. I’m open to discussing this with you at a later time if you are interested. However, I’m leaving now.” And then do so.
People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Teaching others what you will accept is key and you will encounter resistance at first. Be prepared for them to react – be gracious and hold your ground.