Where Do You Choose to Draw Your Boundaries?

CAL Newsletter: Where Do You Choose to Draw Your Boundaries?

Sometimes, people ask us for more than we want to offer—or can reasonably achieve. When people ask us for more than we want to offer, we have many options for responses. Each of those responses reflects our boundaries. That means we need to know how to clarify our boundaries. If we don’t, we allow people to take advantage of us. Or we don’t take advantage of opportunities.

Sometimes, those choices feel tricky.

Here are three examples I’ve heard in just the past couple of weeks:

  • David, a fellow consultant, explained a potential client asked him to speak for free at the client’s internal conference. they tell him he’ll get all kinds of exposure.
  • Tim, an amateur chef, loves to experiment with various kinds of cakes. He’s brought cakes to family events for years. A cousin wants Tim to bake a cake for the cousin’s 100-person wedding.
  • Susan, a project manager, belongs to a religious community that desperately needs a project manager for a large, important project. They want her to take this unpaid role for the next eight months. She suspects it will be at least 20 hours of work a week.

When I heard from David, Tim, and Susan (not their names), I offered these questions:

  • What will you get if you say yes?
  • On the other hand, will you regret anything if you say no?
  • Can you imagine other options to achieve the yes result? Would those options reduce your regret?

You might recognize this as a way to apply the Rule of Three. And to avoid Either/Or Thinking.

More Options Help Us See Boundaries and Choices

When I spoke with David, he said, “I’m not going to get anything if I say yes to the potential client except for a headache. They’ll think I work for free. However, I offered them a series of speaking engagements with Q&A for a reasonable fee. And they took it!”

Tim, on the other hand, offered a gentle decline to his cousin. “That doesn’t fit for me. I’m not a professional. Given that our children can’t get vaccinated, I don’t even see how to attend your wedding.”

The cousin insisted. Tim said, “No.” (No is an excellent sentence all by itself.)

Susan discussed risks with the people who asked her:

  • The project risks, including using a part-time project manager.
  • Her challenges with multitasking and being spread too thin.

She offered to help them hire a full-time project manager. Once she explained, they agreed they needed a full-time project manager.

You might think these examples are trivial—it’s clear where you would draw your boundaries. But when I spoke with each of these people, they felt obligation or guilt—or even the work itself drawing them in. They didn’t want to say No.

Our concern with saying no might prompt us to do things we don’t want to do. That’s when I find generating more options helps me.

That question helps me think through the situation more clearly:

Can you imagine other options to achieve the yes result? Would those options reduce your regret?

 So how do you draw your boundaries? Might you think of the request as a way to do a favor to someone—or to show your abilities?

There’s no right or wrong answer here.

This newsletter’s question of the month is: Where do you choose to draw your boundaries?


I’m still finishing the consulting book. And I’m not quite ready to open the Q4 writing workshop. Watch this space next month!

Read More of Create an Adaptable Life

If you only read the newsletter, I hope you also read the blog where I write a question of the week each week. Here are other links you might find useful:

Till next time, Johanna

© 2021 Johanna Rothman

1 thought on “Where Do You Choose to Draw Your Boundaries?”

  1. Pingback: How Can We Fulfill Reasonable Expectations of Ourselves and Each Other? - Create An Adaptable Life

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