3 key strategies for managing personal boundaries
Personal boundaries are like the metaphysical fences of a garden. They help us to differentiate our space from that of others. Once in place, we are free to manage who we invite in, who we chat to over the fence, and of course - who isn’t welcome at all. They allow us to engage with others in a secure and permissible way.
Healthy, good-quality relationships are built on clear and understood personal boundaries. In my coaching work, this takes the form of a co-contracting exercise where I and the coachee together design our alliance. In this process expectations for the partnership are laid out, personal boundaries are clearly defined and the trust between us develops.
What happens when personal boundaries aren't established?
When personal boundaries haven’t been established, are poorly designed, or are misunderstood, issues can quickly develop. Examples of such cases are:
- Personal boundaries have been assumed rather than negotiated and established.
- There has been a change in the environment and personal boundaries haven’t been reviewed.
- The personal boundaries that do exist are poorly communicated and unclear.
The last 16 months of ever-changing COVID-19 regulations have put many personal boundaries to the test. For example, I was home-based pre-pandemic splitting my time between coaching and looking after our two-year-old son Jack. To have my wife suddenly working from home was a shock for us all. As I am sure many of you also found out when working practices changed so radically. The whole family was affected.
In those early days, I remember the frustration. There had been a significant change in our environment and we hadn’t taken time to review, negotiate and re-establish our personal boundaries. It was only once we’d worked through this process did things start to become easier.
How to manage boundaries
Personal boundaries have also been a regular theme for my coaching clients. My work has led me to identify three key strategies that reduce the propensity for misunderstanding and frustration within relationships. They are:
1. Design and sign off on personal boundaries at the start of a relationship
This acts as a filter as to whether the relationship is going to be serving both parties in the first place.
2. Review and communicate personal boundaries regularly
This ensures relevancy and that concerned parties remain clear on what they are.
3. Prepare for upcoming shifts in the environment that may impact personal boundaries
This enables concerned parties to be proactive with new personal boundary design, having them ready to go in alignment with when the change is due to take place.
I appreciate these strategies may lead to some challenging conversations in the short term. In the long term, however, they ensure relationships remain of service to both parties, be that in the realm of home or work.
They provide a plan of action for managing the personal boundary fences of our metaphysical gardens. Leaving us to enjoy our time with those we invite in. We can have nourishing conversations with our neighbours and calmly escort those off of the premises who are (or become) unwelcome.