What to do when your boundaries are tested

The other week I’d marked some time in my calendar with the phrase ‘no appointments!’. A day later I nearly got back on that decision when I got some meeting invites. But I stuck with my plan and it felt good. Here are some of things to do when your boundaries are tested.

Pause

The first thing I did was not reply immediately. I left the messages in my inbox until the next day—which is something I usually hate, but I needed to really consider this. 

One of the biggest feelings that came up for me that I’d be inconveniencing someone, as I knew someone depended on my input. This feeling nearly trumped my own feelings and boundaries.

The other feeling that came up strongly was not wanting to be seen as ‘difficult’. Rationally, I know that this makes no sense. Rationally, I don’t care at all if people think I’m difficult. If I am being difficult I’m being so to protect my own well-being. I’m never difficult for the sake of being difficult, or to spite someone. 

In the end, it boiled down to taking up space. To acknowledging that this work around boundaries never ends. 

As a business owner, there’s another fear that comes up when your boundaries are tested. The fear that people won’t return if you tell them that you can’t get that product to them in their timeframe. Or that they’ll go elsewhere, and never return. That they might even tell others about it. And that you’ll never make money ever again. 

If you start off with crooked boundaries, you end up with a business that doesn’t make you feel good + that burns you out.

Do you really want to build and run a business doing things that you don’t want to be doing? Setting and affirming boundaries is part of building and maintaining the foundations of your business. If you start off with crooked boundaries, you end up with a business that doesn’t make you feel good and that burns you out.

Do you need help setting + affirming boundaries that feel good in your business? I can help.

How I affirmed my boundaries

So: I replied. 

I told them that the week they mentioned was a full week for me (I try to avoid the word ‘busy’). In my message, I told them I’d be able to meet ten days later. I didn’t apologise. The old me would absolutely have started with ‘I’m sorry but…’ and ended with it too. But I’m not sorry for taking care of myself. A few ‘unfortunately’ slipped in when I typed the email, but I took them out. Yes, it might be unfortunate, but I’m making a conscious decision here. I was friendly nonetheless—and you can be friendly without apologising. 

Please don’t apologise for taking up space for you. You are the most important person in your business.

I once read a book that said that people are much more likely to accept ’no’ if you explain why. There might be truth in that, but that doesn’t mean that you need to explain everything.

In fact, when you’re communicating boundaries, there’s no need long explanations. You don’t need to write: “that week I have to fulfilled X number of other orders, and it’s also my kid’s birthday, and a bank holiday too, when I won’t be able to work. And I’m coming on my period too, and…”. Try these phrasings instead: “My calendar is full with other commitments that week, so I won’t be able to make it”, or “I’m currently at maximum for the number of orders I can fulfil, but I’m happy to get your order to you by [date that truly works for you]”.

Once I sent the emails I felt good. All of us have our boundaries tested at some time or other. We all break our own boundaries sometimes: I do too. The trick is to return to them, and set them again and again. 

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