Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Sarah's post last week about managing client expectations was awesome! As a follow up post, I dusted off my psychotherapy license...literally, it was pretty dusty, to address some of the comments last week's post generated.

I think we all have questions about the best way to serve clients while keeping ourselves happy, productive and sane. Many of the comments from last week's post centered around boundaries. I don't find this too surprising, as boundaries are a very necessary part of running a successful business. Nearly everything about running a small business has to do with well maintained boundaries. From managing a work force, to interacting with clients and colleagues, to knowing when it's time to stop working and go home, boundaries are what it's all about. And yet, so often we struggle with creating them and successfully securing them. So just why are boundaries so darn difficult to manage?

The long answer involves about 5 different psychological theories and a long drawn out explanation with lots of important sounding words. I'll spare you. The short answer is, because we often push up against what we need/want the most. The importance of boundaries at it's core is pretty primitive and basic. In a word:


Safety is a concept we REALLY take for granted in our modern world. And I don't mean not walking down a dark alley late at night safety. While that is important, the kind of safety and security I'm referencing is much more basic. I'm talking, food and shelter basic. We are animals, after all. Remember?

When we push up against a boundary, we are testing. We are testing out another person, to see if they are safe. Are they able to contain our anxieties? Can they say no to us? Can I count on this person to be clear, straightforward and somewhat predictable? This assessment of one another is essential and it is something that we participate in continually consciously and unconsciously in all our relationships, both business and personal. A feeling of safety allows us to concentrate on less primitive needs, like problem solving and tasks that require less concrete ways of thinking. In short, when we feel safe, we are able to think.

So, here's the secret, confusion leads to an inability to think. Not a shocking revelation, I know, but consider this, when we test another person to assess their safety and they fail, we feel unsafe, leading to confusion and an inability to think clearly and act rationally. This is where everything falls apart. We think that the best way to repair this, especially with clients and employees is to be lenient. Give so and so a break, go easy on them, change the rules. We are being tested to see if we will do exactly that. When a boundary is broken we often feel as though we are doing the person a favor. It is exactly the opposite. Instead, we are proving to them that we are unpredictable, unsafe and untrustworthy. Instead of a constricting force, boundaries are actually a courtesy we extend to each other. I'm going to write that again.


The key to success? Flexible in thought, firm in boundaries. Gosh, I feel a future post about flexibility coming on!

Now what? Time to think about writing guidelines for ourselves to follow when we are being tested.

What boundaries are you struggling with in your business?

I'll be posting more on Thursday about incorporating appropriate boundaries into your business practices.

Let's get the conversation going. Add your questions to the comments section below.



  1. This post was perfect timing. I was just thinking about putting a policies page on our website or at least drafting a standard policy email for new clients. Not because anything bad has happened, but because it hasn't and I'd like to keep it that way.

    "Boundaries are a courtesy we extend to each other." I will remember that.

  2. Perfect Genevieve! That's the right idea. Keep a good thing going. I'll be posting more on Thursday about incorporating appropriate boundaries into our business practices.