Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coaching

Can You Set Boundaries?

I read about a social psychology research study in which researchers observed a school playground that had no fence around it. As children played, they clustered near the middle of the playground.

Then they built a fence. Can you guess what happened? You guessed it. The kids spread out all over the place. Having boundaries gave them the confidence and security to venture into new areas and to play comfortably and more expansively.

The truth is, if you cannot set boundaries, your effectiveness as a leader will be sabotaged. You will hamper your team’s confidence and productivity.

Have you ever heard words like these around your workplace? Could they be referring to your leadership style?

“People get away with murder around here. What’s the use of working hard? Nobody else does.”

“The boss called the whole team together today to lecture us for something one person did, and everybody knew who it was. Doesn’t she just have the guts to sit down with the one who did it and talk about it? Why put the rest of us through it?”

“Janis is out again today. All she has to do is give the manager a sob story, and she’s excused from work. In the meantime, we have to do double duty. I’m about sick of it.”

Yes, there is such a thing as being “too nice”. If you are a person who finds it difficult to set to set limits, to say no, and to hold people accountable, see if any of these reasons ring true for you.

1. You’re afraid you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.

Some people are blessed with the ability to feel what others feel – to have empathy. Maybe that describes you. However, that blessing can become a curse when you have so much empathy that you want to avoid hurting people at all costs.

Recognize that “hurt” and “harm” are not the same thing. Decision making and confrontation may cause pain to someone you care about, but honestly confronting issues may be the loving thing to do in the long run. After all, as coach, you have a responsibility to do what is necessary to help people perform at their best. Sometimes that means showing them what they need to improve, and that can “hurt” temporarily. However, it’s very unfair to keep people in the dark or even to mislead them about the adequacy of their performance.

2. You want people to like you.

Great leaders are not always popular. One key characteristic of a leader is the ability to see what others can’t, to have the vision for what needs to change if the organization is to move forward. You know from experience that people are not delighted when you ask them to move from their comfort zones, even if what you’re asking them to do will make things better for them in the long run.

Some leaders make the mistake of just being “one of the guys or gals”. It’s great to be friendly with your team members, but when you’ve been “hang-out buddies”, it can be awkward to have a performance problem discussion.

Find the balance. Be pleasant, friendly, and jovial on a daily basis…but be willing when necessary to sit down and objectively and seriousl.y address problem situations. At that moment, you may not be terribly popular, but if you do it respectfully, yet firmly, you’ll be respected. That’s important.

3. You lack the organizational skills necessary for follow-up.

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind setting limits and holding people accountable, but you have so many balls in the air that you can’t remember what you’ve said or when you need to follow up.

Create a simple “tickler file” system, writing your follow-up task on the date on which it should occur.

4. You want to give people “every chance”.

I agree that people need chances to improve. However, continuing to rescue people over and over assures that they will not change. You will be the one suffering the pain of their consequences…not them.

Some of the best learning comes from pain. Allowing the universal principle of “sowing and reaping” to take its course (after instruction and coaching have been fruitless because the person chose to do otherwise) can provide a great life lesson. Don’t be afraid to step back and let nature take its course…or help nature along a bit.

Remember, setting boundaries yields positive results. It gives security to workplace members. It keeps you from taking on more than you can possibly do. And, most importantly, when you set boundaries respectfully, you reap a harvest of trust and respect.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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