Have you ever felt ‘a little off’ when interacting with would-be clients, peers or anyone you met in your circle before? I have.
Something about their boundaries that give us wrong signals, but they are so subtle that we just let them slide… Then later on, we realize that we engage less and less with them somewhat subconsciously.
The question of the day is, “What if the way you communicate your availability boundaries is hurting your business?”
Don’t get me wrong. We can all agree that setting boundaries is key to the longevity of our businesses. They help us streamline and avoid spending hours on time-consuming (and low value) tasks that keep us away from providing meaningful work.
Dilemma! I know.
So, how do we go about maintaining a healthy level of boundaries that won’t hurt the quality of interactions you offer to people in your business? Is it even possible?
It is. Totally possible.
Today, we are going to explore:
1. Why some boundaries give us the wrong impressions?
2. Identifying your fears that are messing up your communication about your boundaries.
3. 5 super effective tips to help you implement this successfully.
Before diving in, I want to clarify that this post is going to focus mostly on “time & availability boundaries.” We are not going to cover privacy, security, and special treatment (favors) boundaries. These will be another lesson for another day.
What’s Considered Odd & Awkward Communication Surrounding Boundaries?
When it comes to this topic of setting boundaries, there are 3 groups of people I see.
1. Overly people-pleasing & ended up running on an empty gas tank.
2. Overly strict about setting boundaries & ended up annoying people around them.
3. Maintaining just the right degree of boundaries that others don’t even notice.
See, what we want to achieve here is to join group #3.
I’ve already written about how wanting to be liked by everyone too much would not serve you or your business. So, we aren’t going to spend too much time on that topic here. But boy, do I have something to say about #2?
For the longest time, I couldn’t really put my finger on it. Yet this thought has been on the back of my mind. While I actively seek opportunities to meet new people, I started to notice some who act…how can I put this..odd.
Here are some examples:
● Email autoresponders that repeatedly tell me how slow their response time would be on specific days of the week while they aren’t on vacation.
● Although I am clearly not their prospect, they make me log into their calendar to find their availability for a call like I need to put in the work to make it happen.
● Without fail, their opening statement of emails always starts with some sort of elaborate reason on why they had been busy or apologizing for their late responses that I may not care to know.
● They are overly vocal about what their rules are when it comes to their boundaries in various forms.
● They ask what my options are, yet they cancel almost every option I present.
● A cumbersome “spam blocking feature” that makes me jump through hoops of fire to verify I am legit.
Do you want to know what MY RESPONSE is to those?
“Never mind. No. Really. Never mind.”
My guess is you are also thinking, “Ahhh, yes! I hate those, but I never look at it this way!”
Can you say PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE?! And there is only one thing I always say about being “passive aggressive,” which is: You don’t get to have them both & expect to be well received. You only get to choose one or the other.
Let me be clear, I am not here to complain. Frankly, I just move on, so it doesn’t bother me much.
Instead, I want to take this opportunity to assess our ways of handling boundaries and how we communicate with others so that we aren’t hurting our businesses by not setting boundaries at all or by setting them in a way that is alienating great opportunities.
Oh, I know. No one wants to repel great opportunities!!! Right?
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Awkward Boundaries Setters – Don’t Let This Be You
Now that you know what kind of boundaries-related communication can be irritable to others, let me share a few common beliefs that I have found by observing their behaviors when it comes to why they are behaving the way they do.
There are roughly three:
1. They were once burned by not setting boundaries, but they don’t know how to adjust to their new rules, especially when it comes to communicating with others and perhaps they feel a bit of guilt for implementing. This comes from the fear of being judged.
2. They mistakenly believe that “being unavailable (being busy)” is a sign of them being “in demand” to emulate their importance in their business. In a sense, they are playing hard to get. This gives off a weird energy – a mix of someone being insecure and insincere. This comes from the fear of being exposed.
3. Their goal is to be more efficient in their businesses by automating or delegating some tasks to protect their time. Although their intentions are pure, they are doing so on the wrong tasks that can jeopardize their business relationships. This comes from the fear of not getting enough validation.
Do you recognize any of these to be your case? That’s totally OK. To be completely honest, I continuously adjust & improve my ways to combat the urge to “over-deliver.” So, you aren’t alone.
What’s important here is to understand where some of the awkward behaviors I pointed out originate from. Without this understanding, we aren’t going to be able to problem-solve.
As you can see, whether or not they would admit it, these all stem from various fears.
Fear of losing popularity (by being judged), fear of being discovered that they are struggling or fear of not being perceived as they want to be perceived (ego), and fear of “not doing the right things.” (and thus getting less validation from others).
Fears are the main source of misalignment between what you want and how you ask for it.
If you see someone proudly broadcasting his or her unavailability at all times, consider that to be a warning sign. This he or she has a point to prove, and that point is there to serve him or her and is irrelevant to the rest of us. That’s why it creates this awkward, unpleasant experience.
5 Super Effective Tips for Implementing Your Boundaries
The main theme for this post is to satisfy 2 different objectives. Needless to say, that’s why it’s tricky.
Objective 1: Set boundaries that help you to grow your business without experiencing burnout.
Objective 2: Your boundaries are protected without unnecessarily alienating people.
These 5 tips shared here will help you do just that.
Tip #1: Choose the Right Method & Tools to Communicate Your Boundaries
When you want to be contacted and how should be clearly listed and possibly shared with those who need to be aware of your availability. But your job isn’t done just yet. The next step is crucial.
Choose appropriate methods and/or tools to communicate your boundaries. This may involve multiple different ways that will help set the right expectations for others.
Let’s use your operating hours, response time, and preferred communication method i.e. email, Slack, calls, as an example.
Make the details available on your website under “About” or “Work with Us” section.
Include the details in your client (customer) onboarding packet.
Communicate casually in your email messages (before kicking off a project).
Incorporate this in your service agreement.
Differentiate your methods depending on whom you are communicating with. Prospects? Peers? Joint venture partners? They should be treated differently.
Use automation to treat people like numbers i.e. generic autoresponders & voicemail messages.
Repeat the same message over and over unless it’s necessary.
Choose a method that may cut your workload down but increasing theirs at the same time.
Take the position of “reinforcing” your boundaries to the wrong group of people.
Tip #2: You Do You – Stop Letting Your Fears Dictate Your Communication Method
“I don’t want to look desperate, so I take my time responding to inquiries.”
I’ve heard someone said this before. Do you know what this person is really saying? He is saying, “I am actually pretty desperate in getting more businesses. So, I need to mask it.”
Did I nail it or what? It’s true. If you are confident & operating from a place of abundance, you don’t even give something like this a thought. Ever. You respond at your own pace that you consider appropriate to help those who are reaching out to you. Right?
The point I’m making here is this: Don’t let your fear dictate the way you communicate with others, because no matter how well you think you are hiding it, they can detect it.
Instead, focus on:
Being transparent but thoughtful in letting others know your boundaries.
Avoiding cheap tactics thinking you are cleverly protecting your boundaries.
Stop apologizing for what you stand for.
Respecting their feelings while you protect your boundaries.
Implementing ways to serve without being manually & physically present at every given moment.
In other words, stop pretending. Just be you, who cares about how you want to treat others and how you want to be treated. There should be no difference in between. And it all starts from setting the right expectations from the get-go.
Tip #3: A Simple Acid Test – “Would I Like Getting This?”
Once you are clear on what you need to protect and what type of fear can interfere with your good intentions, try this simple acid test. Put yourself in their shoes & ask, “Would I like getting this myself?”
For example, even when it comes to a vacation autoresponder, I simply don’t set it. I had come to the realization that not checking my emails for days doesn’t make me any more relaxed than that of pre-vacation. Most likely I would check my email at least once within 48 hours. So why bother?
More importantly, this also has a lot to do with my security boundaries which I said earlier that I wasn’t going to cover extensively. I simply don’t want everyone who randomly emails me to know when I am unavailable or what my schedule looks like.
Of course, people who are involved with my business will be given a personal & advance notification. I would also put the info in the shared calendar. But that’s about it.
I simply don’t see the need for autoresponder to be set let alone setting up a non-vacation autoresponder outlining the speed of my response to which day I am not available to when my office hours are that scream “You aren’t worthy of my time.”
When I get someone else’s autoresponder, I usually have mixed feelings – 50% disappointment, 50% relief that I know not to expect quick response from this person. Either way, it’s not particularly uplifting.
OK, before you start screaming at me saying, “Are you expecting me to be available at all times?!!!” Just hold your horses. All I’m saying is that autoresponders don’t give a positive experience. That is all.
Before you send that “memo” out to people about your availability or schedule change (based on your boundaries), just ask yourself whether you would like to receive it in that particular format, tone, length, frequency, etc. If the answer is no, either modify its format or do it in a different way.
Tip #4: Consider These 2 Questions If You Are Still Being Bothered by Invasive People
“My client who also happens to be my friend is constantly text messaging me on my personal phone!”
Well…I don’t feel too bad for you. You are the one who allowed that to happen, right?
If you are being harassed by invasive people, you need to look at it from 2 angles:
1. Are these the kind of people you should be hanging out with?
2. Why didn’t you communicate your boundaries in the beginning of the project?
It takes two to tango – that would be the analogy I would use in this case. It’s also worth noting that being firm and being mean are not the same. There are many ways to convey your concerns without coming across as insensitive.
Since you can’t take back what has already happened, the action you can take now would be to be firm & clear in a thoughtful manner and tell the person that you won’t take business related calls and messages on your personal phone.
Better yet, be sure to explain why your boundaries can be potentially beneficial for that person so that you won’t be perceived as “selfish.” Note that this has nothing to do with people-pleasing. On the contrary, this ensures you get what you want from the person without friction.
Chances are, this person may not even be aware that you have separate phones! All that internal drama you had about this might have been unnecessary.
Tip #5: Actively Question Your Boundaries & Make Sure They Are Truly Meaningful to You
I’m bringing back the example I used under tip #3 where I don’t set an email autoresponder for my time away (unless there is an unexpected emergency). Everyone sets one of those vacation notices, right? It seems that is a normal thing to do because everyone does it.
But is it really?
Does it truly serve you to maintain a healthy level of boundaries?
Let me be clear…I am not against autoresponders. In some cases, they may make perfect sense. The argument is to actively question everything about your boundaries regardless of what’s considered the norm by others.
This may not apply to you, but as I mentioned earlier, not checking my email for days doesn’t provide a sense of peace. It’s because I’ve learned to become more neutral to what I discover in my inbox. If I feel like I can respond, what I do, instead of broadcasting my unavailability, is to respond then but pre-schedule it to go out at a much later time.
Just because everyone handles things in a certain way doesn’t automatically mean that it also serves you well. You are a business owner with this great opportunity to build a business your own way. Right? So why not examine what serves you and what does not without being biased by so-called standards?
By doing so, you can eliminate useless friction between you and business opportunities without killing yourself.
Final Thoughts: The Unusual Secret to Be Extremely “Hands-On” without Being Physically Available at All Times
I wonder if you are with me on this, and here it goes: My biggest pet peeve in business is witnessing “distasteful customer experience.” Granted I don’t expect much from Walmart. On the flip side, I DO have high expectations when I interact with businesses that let you know they hold themselves to high standards.
Yet time and time again, I find myself being disappointed in the poor service or communication by luxury brands and affluent lifestyle service providers.
If you believe that your business provides exceptional experience, regardless of who you and your team interact with, you should be able to walk the walk because that’s your vision and mission for your business. Do you agree?
So, what is THE secret that I speak of? Not to hype this all up, but I want to tell you, this one is a doozy.
The secret is: The more you open yourself up to be available to them, the more they adjust their own expectations to be respectful to your boundaries.
What?! I know. Very counter-intuitive. But I bet you expect nothing less from me.
Let me explain.
In order to pull this off, ensure that these 2 things are in place:
1. You demonstrate how you respect others’ boundaries while you clearly communicate what your boundaries are and why they are necessary for creating an exceptional experience for them.
2. Be consistent with what you promise to deliver so that their experience working with you isn’t any less because of your boundaries.
I will use myself as a guinea pig here.
Throughout what I produce whether it’s content like this or what it says on my website & social media accounts, most people understand that I mean business. What happens by doing this is they think twice about reaching out to me while I openly encourage them to email me directly or book “no agenda” calls.
“Is this important enough?”
“Am I serious enough?”
These are the questions that go through their mind. They won’t casually pick up the phone on the fly without thinking it through. At the same time, they also know they can’t complain that I don’t make myself available enough as…I do tell them to reach out to me at any time.
Ultimately, it has a lot to do with how you present yourself and how you represent your business.
Let me know how you are able to identify and address your fears and which tip worked the best to remove them from your belief system, so that you keep your boundaries in tact while continuing to provide exceptional experience to people you work with.