Having more influence means setting the proper boundaries
You will have more influence when you set the proper boundaries. Influence is based on respect and trust. If you have bad boundaries, you are not showing respect, and you can’t build trust because people don’t know where the boundaries are. The more respect you have for yourself and others, the better the boundary and the more trust and influence.
If you have kids, you know what I mean by boundaries. Boundaries are intangible property lines. They distinguish your property and identity from others. My identity should not be wrapped up in you, and your identity should not be wrapped up in me. We should have our boundaries (space) and our own identities. We don’t want to be inappropriately in other people’s space, and people shouldn’t be in our space. That’s when we cross the invisible line.
A boundary distinguishes our identity from others concerning our choices and our responsibilities. Without clear boundaries, we can’t know where my responsibility begins and ends and where yours begins and ends. There are limits to what I can do without crossing your boundary. And there are limits to what you can do without crossing my boundary. And within our boundaries, we have our responsibilities.
Earn Trust with Good Boundaries
By having good boundaries, you show respect for yourself and others, and you are building and earning trust. People have established boundaries based on past experiences and may find it difficult to change them. Even as adults, the boundaries we had growing up in our families are still in place— unless we purposefully change them.
That’s why people who grow up with verbal/physical abuse or addictions tend to end up in relationships where they are getting abused or become abusive or addicted due to their trauma. Even if their situation is painful, it has a sense of security about it because it’s familiar. Behaviors tend to be based on boundaries.
Now, in any team or organization, you will have boundary issues because you are bringing together individuals with different boundaries. So, in our organizations, we need to discuss what the acceptable boundaries are. The boundaries at work may be different than those at home. Having appropriate boundaries builds credibility because they come from respect and influence, regardless of your position in life or work.
Four Common Boundary Types You Should Know
Passive—A passive boundary means no boundary. It is like a yard with no fence. Your yard is my yard. You can walk across my yard, ride your bike across my yard, walk your dog and let him do his thing in my yard. You might say, “not in my yard,” but if you are passive, you have no actual boundary to your yard. So, you allow inappropriate behavior. You show a lack of respect for your own needs and rights.
You tend not to state your thoughts, feelings, needs, or wants. You don’t want others to walk across your yard. You may be feeling frustrated or upset. But you tend not to state those feeling directly to them. Your passive thought pattern is “you’re okay, and I’m not okay.”It’s more about you walking in my yard than me telling you to stay off my yard. You repress your feelings. You may be frustrated or mad, but you suppress those feelings and tend to avoid confrontations. The results are: “I will lose, and I will let you win.”
Aggressive—The aggressive boundary is a wall that says, “Stay out of my yard. You are not welcome here. Beware of the dog. Get out of my yard.” If you see a yard with no fence, you might just take over that yard or the whole neighborhood. And if you encounter another wall, you might try to know it down. You enjoy the competition.
This boundary shows a lack of respect for others by overpowering them. You will state your thoughts and feelings, needs, and wants at the expense of others. You don’t care what they think. Your thought pattern is, “You’re not okay, I’m okay. I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel about you or the situation.” But often, you don’t get the result you want. Your behavior is an attack: “Let’s do this, let’s go at it. I am going to win, and you will lose.” And you do this even with the people you work with and live with, not just with your competitors.
Passive-aggressive—Often, two passive and aggressive people get together since opposites attract, at least for a while. It can be good to be attracted to the opposite —that is the whole point of a relationship—if both parties value the differences and think, “Great, you bring something that’s not in me.” However, most opposite people don’t value the differences and instead set two bad boundaries. It’s okay to be attracted to your opposite. Still, if you get into relationships because of the dysfunctional emotional voids, you will have problems and need to recognize the difference.
We often see passive-aggressive boundaries in marriages. Suppose the guy is aggressive and the lady is passive because of the traditional roles of men and women. Here’s what happens. The lady says, “I’m sick and tired of being walked on like a doormat. I’ve had it. I need my own identity.” So, she starts respecting herself more. And the guy says, “What’s going on with you? We’ve been married for ten years. I thought we had the perfect marriage.”
She says, “Well, yeah, you did. You had the perfect marriage. You did everything you wanted, and passive me went right along with you. How perfect is that — for you?”
And he says, “I’m making money. I’m successful. I’m a winner.”
Here’s what happens. The passive person says, “I’m going to be more aggressive.” The aggressive person says, “I’m going to be more passive.” But when one thing goes wrong, bam! The repressed emotion explodes. And they may go back and forth and back and forth. It’s called an oscillating system. It’s passive, then aggressive or aggressive, then passive. But ultimately, there’s always going to be this passive-aggressive element with the oscillating swing.
It’s kind of like Charlie Brown and Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts. Lucy says, “Kick the football, Charlie Brown. Come on, Charlie, this time you can do it! I’ll hold it. I promise.” So, Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the ball, but Lucy keeps moving the ball. And Charlie says, “I don’t trust you. I do not want to kick that football again, Lucy.” See, with passive-aggressive behavior, we lose respect, trust, and influence.
Assertive—The assertive boundary is like a gate. Now we are taking these intangible property lines and making them tangible to gain mutual understanding. The gate enables us to have reciprocal respect. You can knock on the gate, and I can open the gate. You’re not just going to smash through my gate. The gate is there so you can’t just break through it. There’s got to be mutual respect coming and going in and out. Remember, trust is mutual and reciprocal.
The assertive boundary shows respect for both self and others — simultaneously. Think about it. If we don’t show respect simultaneously, what do we have? Passive-aggressive. The key is to do it as much as possible simultaneously. That’s why it’s so hard for people to be assertive—they jump back into the other boundaries. They oscillate.
If I’m assertive, I will make a direct statement on my thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants while simultaneously respecting the thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants of others. That’s hard to do, much harder than being aggressive or being passive. We set a norm here, an assertive boundary. In effect, we are saying, “We are not going to put up with certain behaviors here. We are not going to put up with passive behavior, aggressive behavior, or passive-aggressive behavior.”
If your behavior does not match this norm, you may say, “Well, that’s just who I am.”
And we may say, “Well, if that’s the way you are, then you need to change your behavior to match the standard. If you don’t want to change to match the standard, then we need to talk about our options.”
Be Assertive But Not Aggressive
The assertive boundary is the gate. The assertive thought pattern is: “I’m okay; you’re okay. When I’m okay, and you’re okay, we can value differences. I don’t even have to agree with you, but I’m okay with your point of view.”
And my feelings are not repression or obsession; instead, I find appropriate expression — I will make a direct statement about my thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs.
And, once I make my appropriate expression since I’m okay and you’re okay, it’s okay for you to give me some feedback. I could use that feedback. I might disagree with your feedback, but I don’t mind feedback. My behavior is, “I will confront and resolve.” If the tooth needs pulling, I pull it. I don’t wait until it starts messing up my whole mouth or damages my entire body. The result is a win-win or no deal.
Sometimes we may opt for no deal after asking, “Do we even want to do business with these people?” At what point should this be a no deal? The point is, it’s not win-win; it’s no deal because I’m not going to do win-lose or lose-lose; it is going to be win-win or no deal. Those are the only two options.” That is the assertive boundary.
Now, somebody might say, “You are too assertive!” They probably describe aggressive because you can’t be too assertive if assertive means showing respect for you and me simultaneously. Being assertive is good for everybody. Being assertive is having appropriate boundaries and having a centered self as opposed to being self-centered.
On airplanes, you are told to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then on your child. That may sound selfish, but unless you do it, you won’t help either one of you. When you’re not assertive, you hurt everybody. The people in your life need you to be centered and assertive.
For effective ways to navigate change, transitions, or create transformational leadership in your organization, contact us at J2NGlobal.com. Find out how we can help you.
Bill Poole is CEO of J2N Global and author of Journey to Newland.