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We are one hundred per cent responsible for teaching people how to treat us. That’s true! If someone tells a racist joke in front of you and it is something you do not appreciate, you must say something. If you do not, you have just told the joke teller that it is all right with you. It’s that easy!

One reason why people do not speak up is their fear of conflict. Does that make sense to you? Not many people were ever given careful, specific training in handling conflict effectively. They shy away from speaking up when a friend, co-worker or family member offends them. Speaking up on your own behalf requires confidence in your communication skills. You have to believe that you deserve to be respected. And, of course, the rest of that most basic equation is that you treat others with respect as well.

A boundary is a limit or edge that defines us as separate from others. Setting boundaries with the folks closest to us is essential to creating healthy relationships. We have physical boundaries as well as emotional, spiritual, sexual and social ones. When our emotional or social boundaries are trespassed upon, we feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. That’s the time to speak up.

How does this translate to the workplace? Work often has different people with differing levels of responsibility, expertise and experience. You may have a supervisor or manager as well as folks who work under you. How do you set boundaries with your boss? Big question as that is likely the first person you do not want to offend, right?

Communication skills to the rescue.


First, take a deep breath in through your nose and let it slowly out through your mouth. Relax. One big mistake that is often made is to react rather than to respond when someone crosses your boundaries. It is just that very reactivity that scares us and rightly so. When you are being reactive, you are dangerous to yourself and your relationships. Reactivity is often thoughtless. That’s not the way to improve relationships. Take the time to center yourself–to relax and think– before speaking up.


Identify the cause of your discomfort. Was it the words said to you, the tone of voice, the timing, the company or the inappropriateness of the comment? Then, identify how you have responded to it on a feeling level. Are you feeling frustrated, hurt or scared? Those are the underlying emotions of the arousal we call anger. Begin there to figure out your feelings. No point confronting someone until you are clear about what you are going to say.


Both the words and the timing are important to the effectiveness of your boundary setting. Of course, you will want to remember the Golden Rule. You do not want to become the offender when your true desire is to express your request for changed behavior.

Laura was participating in a team meeting. When she was asked for her report, she presented it in a very detailed fashion. The manager apparently thought that it was too lengthy. She raised her voice and said,

“You can’t be wasting our time blathering on with all those details. Just give us the facts, the bottom line, and don’t be running off at the mouth. I expect my people to be concise.”

Laura was embarrassed, belittled and put-down in front of her peers. She fell silent for the duration of the meeting. Naturally, she was upset. And, she was angry. What did she now need to do?


Fortunately, Laura did not fall into the trap of complaining to her team members after the meeting. She calmed herself down and went to see her manager. Laura began the conversation by saying that she was sorry that her desire to give a full report on her work was interpreted as time-wasting. The manager indicated that she was glad that Laura now knew better.

Laura proceeded by stating how she wanted to be treated in future. That is the bold step required. How that step is taken makes all the difference.

“It is important to me to do well and to have productive, respectful relationships with my team members. I felt put down and belittled in the meeting. I would appreciate being told about any mistakes, shortcomings or unmet expectations in private. Would you help me do a better job by agreeing to do that?”

Notice that Laura did not place any blame, judgment or anger in her statement. She owned her feelings and offered a guideline for the relationship. She did not react. She responded thoughtfully and clearly.

Quick, direct communication ending with a request for agreement. Laura was teaching her manager how to treat her. She did it respectfully. She stood up for herself. She drew a boundary gently, clearly. Is there any question in the manager’s mind regarding how Laura wants to be treated? Likely not.

Whether or not the matter ends there is another question. Sometimes, boundary statements have to be repeated several times before they are honored. Sometimes, they are not honored at all. Then, it is time for the next step.


If the manager berated Laura in front of her team on other subsequent occasions, she would then have a decision to make.

She would be wise to step back and get a better perspective on her work, her team and the company. It is important for Laura to first examine her work. If all is well except for this one relationship, she might choose to accept that the manager would not change. If she finds the relationship intolerable, she might ask for a transfer or find another position.

We are responsible for teaching people how to treat us. We cannot coerce them into doing so. How people respond to our boundary setting is a function of two important concepts: the self-confidence of the other and the perceived value of the relationship. If Laura’s manager demonstrates her lack of self-confidence by repeatedly needing a scapegoat, Laura will likely not change her behavior. If Laura’s manager wants Laura’s specialized expertise on the team, she will likely respond positively to Laura’s request.

Are there any relationships in your life where boundaries have slipped and need shoring up? Let people know who you are and where you stand. Follow these few steps. You’ll build confidence and gain respect. Draw your lines in the sand in ink.

International speaker, coach, author & talk radio host,
Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is an expert motivator. She gives you
the strategies and motivation to shift your results from
acceptable to EXCEPTIONAL in life and business. Subscribe to
her three free ezines at http://www.optimizelifenow.com/.

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This entry was posted in Business.
About Rhoberta Shaler
International speaker, coach, author & talk radio host, Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, is an expert motivator. She gives you the strategies and motivation to shift your results from acceptable to EXCEPTIONAL in life and business. Subscribe to her three free ezines at http://www.optimizelifenow.com/. WebProNews Writer
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