Setting boundaries doesn’t come easily or naturally to a lot of people, but you can learn to set healthy boundaries. I’m going to share ten tips that I find helpful.

In my last post, What Are Healthy Boundaries and Why Do I Need Them?, I told you about my friend Chris who struggled to set boundaries with his neighbor. Chris’ experience demonstrated thatwe need boundaries in all of our relationships, and that boundaries establish expectations and communicate how wewant to be treated.

  • Karla and Mark have two young children. Mark’s parents have a new dog that seems aggressive, and he doesn’t feel comfortable with the dog around his kids. Mark tells his parents that their dog isn’t welcome at his house and he will not bring his kids to their house unless the dog stays in the garage.
  • A roommate agreement (the concept isn’t as ridiculous as it seems on The Big Bang Theory) that identifies expectations about cleaning, food, and noise.
  • Telling your boss that you can’t work late tonight.
  • Having a personal policy of not loaning money to family members.

1. Clearly identify your boundary.

Get really clear with yourself about what the boundary is that you need to set. Do you need your mother to stop calling all together or can she call you under certain circumstances? If you arent clear, you wont be able to communicate your expectations. A wishy-washy boundary is not effective. Spend time figuring out what you need before taking action.

2. Understand why you need the boundary.

This is your motivation for setting the boundary. If you dont have a compelling reason, why are you going to follow through with setting a boundary thats out of your comfort zone?

3. Be straight forward.

Dont be cryptic or purposefully vague thinking youre going to spare someones feelings or avoid a conflict. The kindest and most successful approach is to be direct. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

4. Dont apologize or give long explanations.

This kind of behavior undermines your authority and gives the impression that youre doing something wrong that requires an apology or justification.

5. Use a calm and polite tone.

Keep your own anger in check. Don’t try to set boundaries in the middle of an argument. You want your message to be heard. Yelling, sarcasm, or a condescending tone all put others on the defensive and distract from the real issues.

6. Start with tighter boundaries.

Its always easier to loosen up tight boundaries than it is to tighten loose boundaries. I see so many people making this mistake.

When you meet a new friend or start a new job, naturally you want to make a good impression, be agreeable, and fit in. As a result youre likely to over-extend yourself, agree to commitments or viewpoints that dont sit well with you. People-pleasing results in loose or weak boundaries that are hard to tighten up later.

For example, you set a clear expectation with your ex that you dont want her coming into your home when she returns the children. From this firm boundary, its easy to later invite her in if you feel its appropriate. Its much harder to later tell her she cant come in when initially youd given her free access to your home.

7. Addressboundary violations early.

Small problems are always easier to manage. Dont wait until someones violated your boundary a dozen times before you speak up. Its not fair to assume that others know your boundaries until youve explained them. Nor is it fair to change the rules and abruptly tell your cousin that youre not going to help pay her rentafter youve done it with a smile on your face for the past three months.

8. Dont make it personal.

Setting a boundary isnt a personal attack. Gina generously agreed to drive her coworker Maggie home while Maggie’s car is in the shop. Gina likes to leave promptly, so she’sgrown resentful that she’s waiting 10-15 minutes after shift as Maggie chats and socializes. After three days of this she snaps: “Maggie you’re really inconsiderate. Can’t you see I’m waiting for you? You’re so ungrateful! Just take the bus home!” Notice the difference when Gina uses an “I statement” and leaves the personal attack out. “Maggie, I need to get home straight after work. I’m happy to give you a ride, but I can’t wait more than five minutes for you. So, if you need more time, I won’t be able to drive you home.”

9. Usea support system.

Starting to set boundaries is tough! It can bring up a lot of questions, uncomfortable feelings, and self-doubt. Having a support system is invaluable whenever youre doing something challenging.

10. Trust your intuition.

Be sure to slow down and tune into yourself. Pay attention to what youre feeling. What is your gut telling you? If it feels wrong, make a change.

Following these ten steps will help guide you toward setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. And remember that healthy boundaries are not only good for you, but they’re good for everyone.

You might also like to read:

Why You’re Saying Yes, When You Really Mean No

The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No


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Photo by: Edwin Torres/ Flickr