Establishing and Exploring Boundaries

By Rachel Verlik, PCCHow well do you create and honor your boundaries? And why do they matter?

Consider the case of Sarita*, a director of product development in a well-known public company. Sarita is well liked within her organization, and the company is investing in her, as they see a lot of potential in her ability to rise further in the leadership ranks within the organization.

Sarita is successful in delivery and management of her team, but struggles with being “nice” and allowing others’ agendas to sometimes dictate decision making. She often tries to compromise to find middle ground, even when perhaps she shouldn’t. Sarita has a strong ability to see all sides and listen to different perspectives – but this sometimes pulls her out of her own values and intentions in leadership. This is causing her some angst and has become a focus in our coaching. 

What’s at play here? While there are a few different angles we are exploring, a primary one is identifying and strengthening boundaries. Let’s explore boundaries a bit more.

Why are boundaries important? They essentially establish what’s ok and what’s not ok. They help you live within your value system, stay true to your beliefs, and manage a healthy balance of your needs, wishes, and direction. They identify where you begin and end in relationship with others.  

What gets in the way? Why us, of course! In all seriousness – we are hardwired for connection, belonging and support. It served us from the beginning of time in our evolutionary journey and allowed us to survive. As a result, sometimes setting boundaries can feel like we are setting up walls that allow for disconnection. “If I say no, that doesn’t work, what will the other person think? Will they be upset with me? What does that mean if they are?”

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown discusses the acronym of BIG: Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity. “What Boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my Integrity and Generous with my assumptions, about intentions, words and actions of others?”

So how do we do this? First, your body can give you physical cues when you are not remaining true to yourself and boundaries. It can be that lump in your throat, a gut feeling, the tossing and turning at night. Second, once you can identify that physical cue, ask yourself what wisdom is behind that. What’s making you step out of your integrity of establishing a boundary here? Is it an aim to please? A desire to avoid conflict and pushback? Third, play with it some! Start taking incremental steps to ask for what you need and where you can establish a boundary – and stick to it! See how it feels and where you may need to adjust.

A coach of my own once told me “Boundaries join us, not separate us.” It helped me to reframe my definition of boundaries – it’s less that we are putting a fence around ourselves but rather it’s helping to be the connective tissue that let us be in relationship with others in our most elevated selves, living in our truest integrity and value system. Boundaries can be hard – but by establishing them, others get the very best of us, and we get the best of ourselves.

To learn more about exploring and setting boundaries and strengthening your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Rachel.

*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the anonymity and confidentiality of the client.