I have a standing “girls chat” with a co-worker each month. It’s a time when we open up our professional closet and haul out our dirty laundry and miscellaneous items we don’t know what to do with but can’t let go of. There is a lot of validation, active listening, hard questions, and resource swapping – from articles to people in our network – that occurs in our chats. These chats aren’t about solutions or fixing the other person, but rather the camaraderie of two travelers on a career journey. While the information is helpful and the laughter is great, it’s the companionship that offers a soothing balm that keeps me coming back.

Boundary Types

Over the past few months many of our conversations ended up touching on boundaries. In a summer chat, she mentioned buying the book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Candidly, I’ve never thought I had an issue with boundaries. In fact, my family and friends will tell you I’m pretty stubborn, that I know my limits/needs, and I’m not one to “convince” into something. However, when I investigated the book, I noted that it covered six types of boundaries:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Material
  • Time

I’d never thought in terms of “types” of boundaries—just that you had them, or you didn’t. The book offered “tips on how to uphold personal limits” and this terms gave me pause for how I think of boundaries. The author, Nedra Tawwab, writes, “But what do ‘healthy boundaries’ really mean—and how can we successfully express our needs, say ‘no,’ and be assertive without offending others?”

As I thought about what the book had to offer, my girls chat discussions, and my shallow understanding of boundaries, I quickly added the book to my Audible library. (Note: if a book’s not your thing, check out her blog which is filled with one-page nuggets of insight.)

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself helped me better understand the complexities around boundaries. That my boundaries can be solid, Jello, or missing all together depending on the area. I also realized that what I use to define as wants/needs – which I could dismiss if they were broken by others – should be rethought of as a more formal boundary. I appreciate that Nedra gives readers examples of how take a concept (or need) and convert it into a clearly articulated boundary statement. There is tremendous power is being able to state a boundary and define what is essential for you to be the best you.

Listen for Boundaries

Additionally, listening to her state various types of boundary examples in each chapter helped me be a better boundary listener. Hearing her state them, helped me more easily hear when someone is setting one with me. In fact, not long after finishing the book, I went to get a pedicure. I was in a new spa and just as the massage began a patron walked over to the woman next to me and began a loud, on-going conversation through her mask. After a while, I asked staff to stay something but they were unsuccessful. So, I did with an “excuse me, but you’re really loud” comment. The woman immediately stopped and walked out. The following day, the spa owner texted me to ask that I not come back based on the incident. She explained that her business was not a spa but a social environment, and she stood up for her customers who wanted that experience. She shared the boundary of her business. In listening to her, I reflected on how I missed defining my own need as a choose a spa to try: a relaxing quite pedicure to unwind from weeks of work Zoom calls and treat my runner’s toes. I also realized that when I spoke to the patron I didn’t express myself well but rather made it about her, which wasn’t fair. Rather than feel attacked (a likely pre-book response), I thanked the owner for clarifying the boundaries of her business. I also told her if I knew folks who wanted a social spa I’d refer them. I didn’t want her worried I’d be a vindictive customer. We ended on positive terms with boundary clarity.

Here’s to our improved ability to claim, communicate, and support boundaries – ours and others.

Leadership: Understand & Articulate Your Boundaries

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