How to Set Boundaries with Others

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Photo by David-Von-Diemar – Unsplash

Why don’t we set clear boundaries with our team members, friends, and family? Because it’s difficult, uncomfortable and we want people to like us. We don’t want to disappoint others, so instead we push aside our own wants and needs in the name of being nice. This happens when we don’t speak up when other people do things that we don’t like, or we say, “Yes” when we really mean “No.” 

In the video Brene Brown on Boundaries she says when we let people get away with things that are not okay, we are resentful and hateful. She also says that the most compassionate people have clear boundaries. Setting boundaries means telling people what is okay and not okay with us. This is the BIG question she lives by: “What boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity and make the most generous assumptions about you?” I once heard a long time ago that we are better off not doing something that we don’t want to do (or not going along with something that we disagree with) just to please others because we become resentful and take it out on the other person. Whereas when we set a boundary and say, “No” we may feel guilty, and we become much kinder and more generous to the other person in order to make up for it.

When someone asks us to do something, we don’t have to automatically say, “Yes.” There are always four possible responses available to us according to the book Leadership and The Art of Conversation by Kim H. Krisco:

  1. Yes = agreement
  2. No = disagreement
  3. Renegotiate = counter offer (“Here’s what I’m willing to do…”)
  4. Commit to commit = defer an answer until specific time in the future (“Let me check my schedule and get back to you this afternoon.”

People learn what we are willing to put up with by what we tolerate from them. Saying nothing sends the message that it’s okay with us. Here are some ways to set boundaries with other people and be clear about what is okay and not okay, rather than expecting them to read our minds or hoping they will get the hint.

  • This is okay with me… This is not okay with me… (“It’s okay that you have a couple of drinks at my party. It’s not okay for you to get sloppy drunk.”)
  • I have a policy about… (“I have a policy about responding to email/texts/phone calls after 6:00 pm. I don’t do it unless it’s an emergency in order to spend quality time with my family.”
  • Please don’t… (“Please don’t call me by that nickname. I don’t like it.”)
  • I don’t like it when… (“I don’t like it when people barge into my office and interrupt me when I’m working without asking if it’s a good time first.”)
  • Can you please…? (“Can you please come back in an hour. I’m in the middle of an urgent task that’s due in an hour.”)
  • That’s not funny. (“That’s not funny. I don’t like those types of jokes.”  or “Putting people down is not funny to me.”)

By setting clear boundaries, we honor our wants, needs and values and stay true to ourselves while being compassionate and generous to others. This preserves our integrity and our relationships with other people.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. – Brene Brown

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” – Brene Brown

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.” – Brene Brown


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