Protecting Your Boundaries: a How-To Lesson

IMG_1637Once your client has moved the boundaries, they become the “new normal.” If you don’t want them creeping over your fence, eating up your time, energy, and profit, you will have to protect your boundaries. (Read the first post on boundary protection)

Protecting your boundaries from being moved without your permission is a self-care necessity. It’s a survival tactic. This is where journaling comes in handy. At the end of every day, a short summary sentence in your journal will help you get to what was important in your day. You will most likely home in on that loss of time or energy, that thorn of anger. The second time, you will remember it happened just last week. This is the time to draw a box in your journal and label it “what I want from this client,” and fill in some statements, as strong as you need them to be to feel comfort.

If those points are about your dignity, your time, your profit margin, it is time to have a conversation with the client. Almost certainly, this is what you don’t want to do.

Add a box in the journal, this one connected to the last one:  “What I fear about this conversation.” (Example: I’ll lose the client.) Deep breath. Scope Creep ( a better term than “boundary issues” because business clients  don’t care about your boundaries, but they do about the scope they agreed to) is handled more comfortably when it is at 10 percent out of whack than it is at 50 percent.

Add another box (also connected): “How to Talk to The Client in Client Terms.” As soon as you notice that your boundaries are being moved, you need to bring it up. The instant you don’t, it becomes the “new normal,” and you lose the ability to adjust it without a struggle. This is your responsibility. But how you say it is important to keeping the relationship. You need to use words your client can comfortably hear.

Privacy-Fence-Stockade-Grade2RearThe big issue is your noticing the boundary being moved. When you don’t react, you may think of yourself as a hero, giving your client a gift, a generous gesture. Your client sees as a negotiation step. That’s a communication gap that has to be adjusted. If you don’t, the client will repeat what worked before, until you get angry and explode. Which the client won’t understand. It was OK with you the last time.

So you talk about Scope Creep. Create your own solutions. If you don’t, the client will create solutions you may feel you have to accept.

Your solutions could suggest:

1. Delivering what you originally agreed to by the date you originally agreed to.

2. Delivering the new materials, by a time you choose.

3. Sticking to the schedule the client wants, but reducing what you have been asked to do.

4. Having a new price for choices 2 and 3.

5. Tell the client that work will stop until you both agree on the next step. This is not unreasonable, as the deliverables or deadlines have changed, and work can’t continue because it no longer has a direction you can follow.

journal-writingWriting this out in your journal allows you to express all the emotions around it in advance. When you know where your emotional hot buttons are, you can avoid them.

You are the only one who can stop Boundary Creep. If you want to protect your emotional landscape, your time,  and your energy, be ready to Plan, Act and Live your values. Yep, that’s being a PAL to your business and yourself.

–Quinn McDonald still spends many days replacing boundaries and painting them to look friendly.


12 thoughts on “Protecting Your Boundaries: a How-To Lesson

  1. Sometimes family are the worst ones for boundary creep. I found that phone calls from a certain member were draining my energy and pushing my blood pressure sky high. I let it happen, I did nothing to stop it or to put boundaries on what was acceptable in our conversations. Finally, I said that we needed some space and I needed time out to just think. I’m still thinking and I honestly believe that I’m in a better place than I was a year ago. Not so sure about the family member, but I suspect that the results were the same. Talking with me on the phone left that person feeling that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I was “letting the team down.” Those would be her thoughts. From my perspective, I found the infinite questions, the “what use did you make of your week” to be invasive and derogatory at times. What I did, what I accomplished, these were all important to me. I guess at this point, when we resume communication, I will set ground rules and we both will abide by them. It’s the only way that we’ll ever be able to be friends, if not relatives.

  2. Scope creep happens in large organizations as well. In some organizations it can be important to keep private some of the things you and your team COULD do, but is outside your scope. I just got done with a couple of weeks of completely unexpected (and extra) work stemming from saying, in a foolishly unguarded moment, “yes, I know how ISO 9001 certification works…”

    *forehead slap*

  3. Great advice Quinn. I’m not self-employed but I have a kind of contract as to why I am involved when I accept a referral. As time has gone on I have become far more careful about what the referrer wants, what I will do and what I won’t do and can’t do. This needs to be stated and written or it’s dissappointment all round. I’m pretty clever at times but I don’t have a wand and I just can’t ‘fix’ kids!

    • Having clear goals helps you know what to be firm on and what you can back off on. And very often, we back off on scope creep instead of sticking to the original goal (or negotiating our way through).

  4. This is truly the one thing I hate about being self-employed. So stressful, it eats you up. I’d much rather have customers than clients! “Here, I made this, buy it if you like, next please!” 😉

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