Once 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.
The 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.
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.