Build up your boundaries for better working relationships

May 24, 2021

Have you ever had a project or client relationship careen off the tracks through no discernible fault of your own, leaving you feeling hurt, confused, and doubting yourself?

I know I have.

What I’ve learned from it all is relationships or projects only go sideways when an expectation goes unmet. That’s it! And guess what? Boundaries are a great way to communicate and establish expectations, ensuring everyone knows where they stand, what’s expected of them, and how to behave.

If you’ve ever looked at someone who has great boundaries – you know, the folks who don’t people-please, respect their own time and needs, and for whom “no” is a complete sentence – and thought you could never be like that, prepare to do a complete 180.

But first, let’s do a quick check-in. If you’ve ever found yourself:

  • taking on a client or project despite the red flags
  • working to the point of burnout because of other peoples’ urgency, unrealistic expectations, and poor management
  • being mistreated by a client
  • spending hours talking to a prospect, writing proposals, and answering questions, only to be ghosted (rude!)
  • working for free because a project’s scope got out of control and you had no recourse
        seething with resentment while the other person goes about their business, blissfully unaware
  • being more and more accommodating, only to treated worse and worse

You probably have a leaky boundary or two.

Which is fine because (a) we’ve all been there (b) it’s not your fault and (c) this is completely fixable.

If boundary-setting seems like a skill possessed only by the chosen few, I’ve got good news. We can all develop this superpower. Life-changing benefits include:

  • Working ONLY with your ideal clients (those would be the well-paying, low-maintenance kind)
  • Building trust and confidence every step of the way, leading to better outcomes
  • No longer wasting precious time and energy dealing with clients who don’t value and respect your creativity and time
  • Being able to show up as your most generous, talented, authentic self – no guardedness or cynicism required

Ready to bring some of this awesomeness into your life?  Read on for 3 ways to set firm, loving boundaries.

1) Work from the inside out

Boundaries, like values, are unique to you and exist to support you being the fullest, most aligned version of yourself. You can’t create boundaries if you don’t know what personal needs you want to be met. A few questions that might support your inquiry into what YOU need include:

  • What am I doing when I’m in my flow or zone of genius?
  • What am I doing when I’m most out of my flow or zone of genius?
  • What resources of time, energy, money, support do I need to do my best work?
  • What are my non-negotiables and what can I be flexible on?
  • What activities or people drain my energy?
  • What activities or people give me energy?
  • Specifically, who or what do I need to help me do my best work for the people who appreciate me?

2) Embrace the paradox

The reason so many of us shy away from boundary setting is we fear it’ll make us less likable and that we’ll be perceived as difficult, inflexible, less desirable to work with. Sadly, that fear is even greater for women, who, for the most part, were told from a very young age that to succeed in anything, we need to be pleasant, nice, and accommodating.

The stronger your boundaries, the freer you are to show up fully as your generous, wonderful self because you’ll be working with the folks who respect your value, energy, and time.

Let me repeat: Boundaries allow you to be fully yourself.

If it’s hard for you to let go of the false conditioning around boundaries and likeability (though to be sure, the goal here is not to be liked by everyone!), I encourage you to look to people who inspire you with their authenticity and clarity.  I mentioned Brené Brown as a role model for me. A couple of others include authors, speakers, and social justice advocates Austin Channing Brown and Sonya Renee Taylor. I’m happy to say, my list is growing all the time!

3) Set the stage early (and reinforce often)

Being clear about your boundaries from the get-go is the best way to develop respectful, healthy, long-lasting relationships. It’s like going on a first date and being fully yourself vs. trying to be the person you think your date might like more (been there, worn that T-shirt, it never works!)  Here are some concrete ways you can achieve this goal:

  • Include FAQs on your website and ask prospects to read them before you speak. FAQs provide an opportunity to answer the questions, and handle the objections, you hear most. This one’s a simple yet effective game changer!
  • Include a questionnaire on your contact me page that elicits the information you need to set a client relationship up for success. This trains your prospect to understand they need to be a proactive and responsive participant in the outcome they seek.
  • Be clear about your operating hours and how quickly they can expect a response from you – include it in your signature and/or set up an autoresponder.
  • Share your values (and how they translate into business behaviors) on your website
  • Create a welcome/onboarding PDF
  • Always, always, always, have a contract including what happens if things don’t go as planned.

Setting and maintaining boundaries is an act of love and respect for yourself and others.  In my experience, engaging with them as fluid, rather than fixed parameters, makes the process feel liberating, rather than restrictive. Do feel free to build as you go and play around until you find what works for you.

Happy boundary-building!

Justine Clay

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth, above.