You are charging ahead in business, things are really taking off and then you meet a roadblock, or maybe it feels like a brick wall. Only the roadblock isn’t a financial problem, a networking problem, or even a skill-set problem. It’s a problem that breathes, talks and wears pants!
Meet Ms. Pushy Pants.
Ms. Pants represents a human being that lands in your life and has this tricky way of spinning things in a direction you never intended to go. The problem is, you can’t quite figure out how it even happens. Phone calls take longer than you planned for, you take on more projects than you can squeeze into your already busy schedule and maybe you are losing money and can’t figure out why you just can’t rein it in.
Somehow each interaction with Ms. Pants make you feel bad about yourself, even when you don’t recall doing anything wrong.
What you have here is a human threat to your business, and if you don’t figure out how to to deal with this new threat, it can put your business at serious risk!
Yeah, you put these people under “T” in your SWOT analysis.
I had the privilege of experiencing this type of threat first-hand, and it nearly crushed one of my business associates, until we implemented some key tactics. We came up with a successful plan to manage the situation. More on that plan later.
To get started, let’s back up a little bit and define what a boundary is. We all understand boundaries related to property. We have fences, gates, homes with walls and doors for entry. There are plenty of “No Trespassing” signs posted in restricted areas and the majority of us understand that it’s actually a crime to enter someone else’s home without their permission. It keeps the cops busy, that’s for sure!
There is another type of boundary besides the physical, and it’s just as important!
It’s an INTANGIBLE boundary and it protects intangible assets. Like hard assets such as cars, homes and pieces of land, we also have assets such as time, morals standards and emotional well-being called “self.”
The only difference between the two is that we can physically see the fences and walls, but we can’t see people’s boundaries on their time, morals and their sense of self.
There are two ways to keep people from violating our invisible boundaries. The first is society’s rules of etiquette or “moral standards” and the second is verbal expression and/or contract.
Basically, someone won’t know where the line is unless you TELL them where it is.
Moral standards and trust are slipping away.
Since we can’t rely on manners, morals and integrity as much anymore, we have to fall back on verbal and contractual boundaries with people.
There are a host of reasons so many people struggle with boundary issues. It’s obvious there is an increase in entitlement syndrome, increased pressure to submit to the authority of the institution, and the fear of being labeled as a big, fat meanie. Morals are becoming ridiculous. Trust is so hard to find. Common courtesy is too old-fashioned. It’s like you have to scream “back off already!” and get a restraining order with some people. Yikes!
Earlier in my networking career I began mentoring fellow networkers to help them grow their businesses. I ran into a variety of issues with a handful of people. In the example that follows, the people are a combination of several personalities that I worked with condensed into two fictional characters for illustrative purposes.
One of my networkers (let’s call this person Darren) was having issues working with a fellow networker (let’s call her Donna). It was sucking up all of his time and draining him mentally. Darren was having a difficult time setting boundaries, and Donna really needed them to function better.
It’s kind of hard to spot this kind of problem at first, especially if two people have vastly different belief systems and communication styles. Darren felt Donna was asking for way too much, twisting the truth, and laying on the guilt. He believed she was intimidating him into giving more than he could commit to. Darren, wasn’t used to being blunt and wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do for Donna and what she should do for herself.
It can be hard to set boundaries with people you do business with! Why?
Because we have natural fears and the boundary violator uses that fear.
- “If I lose this client, how much income will I lose?”
- “What if they say bad things and it ruins my reputation?”
- “Isn’t it discriminatory or mean if I refuse to work with this person when they don’t respect my boundaries?”
There is this thread of HOPE that if you do just ONE MORE THING for this person, they will be satisfied.
But, that ONE MORE THING turns into two, three, ten and so on.
So in the case with Darren, Donna was taking up more time than Darren was willing to give, making Darren feel guilty, demanding things Darren was not willing to do, twisting conversations to get her way and hardly ever living up to her end of the bargain. Unfortunately, Darren was too nice, too flexible and was overpowered by this woman. Why?
Darren wasn’t a wimp. He simply wasn’t well-equipped to deal with Donna. Even though he had attempted to set boundaries that he thought were understandable, Donna wasn’t on the same page with him.
To further investigate what was happening and to bring relief to Darren, I was brought in for mediation and to help both Darren and Donna get through this. I stepped in and began working with Donna myself to smooth things over and get everything back on track.
For most of the people I work with, things get better pretty quickly once everyone is on the same page. Sometimes it’s simply a personality conflict. Other times, the person disrespects other people’s boundaries. Let’s go to the harder situations and illustrate it below.
So it began. Donna tried all the things she could think of to bend me. She told stories, she blamed, she went back on her promises, but it didn’t last very long. Donna’s methods of getting what she wanted by being forceful didn’t work.
Why? Because I set up a system and expectations ahead of time. I set CLEAR boundaries.
By having a plan and being ready to execute it, working with Donna didn’t eat up my time or add lots of stress to my day. Donna ended up breaking herself instead of me.
That’s right! I didn’t do anything to Donna, SHE did it to HERSELF! That’s how it works when you set boundaries.
Here is what I did:
- I decided what I was and was not willing to do. Pretty self-explanatory but muy, muy importante! For example, I wouldn’t take multiple calls each week or make multiple trips. I would spend a set amount of time with her on her scheduled day. Anything she could and should do for herself, she had to do, not me. She had to fit into my schedule, not the other way around.
- I laid out the ground rules for mentoring on paper. And to be fair, all the people I mentored get the same rules. The rules protect both me and the people I mentor from abuse from either party. So in essence, it worked both ways. They weren’t allowed to get away with being a jerk and either did I!
- Next, I made sure everyone understood the rules before they signed them. They weren’t punished in any way for not agreeing – they just didn’t get to be mentored. Call it an “opt-in” if that makes more sense.
- I documented everything we talked about. If there was a story, it was documented. If there was blaming or negative comments about others, it was documented. If anything was promised by either party, it was documented. I kept dated, written accounts of every interaction, because you can’t rely on memory here and it holds much more weight if you can pull out the document and say “Hey, remember when we talked about _____?” And, YES! They were held accountable for failing to do what they had promised.
- There were consequences for not doing what was agreed to. That might be something like no mentoring for that day or cancelling mentoring altogether.
- The consequences were followed through with. I couldn’t just be nice or play favorites because the contract was holding me and everyone else to it. I had to be fair. Any complaining about that and they were reminded that they agreed to it, and it was completely optional.
- I was consistent and reliable. I always did what I said I would do, when I promised to do it. I guess I’m just like that anyway, but it’s hard to get people to take you seriously if you don’t respect yourself or them.
The beauty of doing this is that it takes a boatload of stress off of everyone involved. If there are true instigators who are causing problems, it dumps those problems it squarely on top of person responsible. They get to experience the natural consequences of their actions!
In business you absolutely cannot afford to be spending a lot of time on the least productive tasks, or relationships.
People who are perpetual boundary violators have no respect for you or themselves. They will suck all your resources and drive you to drink if you let them! It’s OK to “let them go” no matter how much money you think they might bring in. What they are doing is using this fear of loss to control you, when in fact they are taking you from the very things (productivity, better self-esteem, more time, sanity, etc.) that will PREVENT your business from failing.
One of my mentors, helped me a great deal when he explained it like this.
“Some people are like anchors. They will hold you back if you let them. You’ve got to decide which ones are worth pulling in the boat with you and which ones you cut loose.”
So, whatever happened to the people who didn’t like respecting mutually agreed on boundaries? I guess you could say those people got really uncomfortable being held to what they agreed to. Some couldn’t get me to accept the excuses and engage in the games, so most of the time they simply stop “showing up” for the mentoring calls. Sometimes they even unfriend me on Facebook. Some people were simply bullies. In the end, they cut themselves loose in one way or another. Everyone had more time to focus on what was important to them.
Waiting for a problem to show up isn’t the time to create a plan of action. By setting clear boundaries with all of your business contacts before you start a business relationship, you can head off most problems before they start. Be firm, be fair and be kind.
If you already have a boundary violator in your life, I challenge you to take the time to access the problem, get a plan, and follow through. You deserve your sanity, your productivity and respect. Anyone who refuses to respect your boundaries does not care about you and is not worth doing business with.
Disclaimer: Jaimie is not the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, a lawyer, a doctor, a veterinarian, or a CPA. Nothing your read in my blog is a substitute for professional advice and doing your own good research. Remember that just because someone has credentials doesn’t guarantee their advice is golden or perfect. Put your smart hat on and do your due diligence. Good luck!
Girl, this article was amazing and so necessary for women in the business world. Boundary violators drive me crazy. And they tend to show up everywhere if you don’t lay down the boundary right off the bat. I like that you start with knowing your own limits/boundaries and then laying the ground rules for the other person. My ex-boss was seriously the biggest boundary violator out there and I never quite figured out how to draw that line. I tried, believe me! But I’m going to give these tips some more thought and make sure I’m not put into that situation again. Excellent article!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Hi Cate! Bosses are some of the hardest people to draw boundaries with! I feel for you on that one! It’s not that they are any worse necessarily, but you feel like your job and/or any promotions or raises are on the line. I do know that some bosses use that to their advantage to get more work out of their employees. It’s not a fun situation to be in.
The anchor quote is so true! It’s so important to not let others drag you down!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Yes, Hilaire! It seems like guilt and feeling sorry for some people makes it harder to let go, but sometimes it has to be done.
Mark Richards says
this is a great article for all of today’s chaos in the work place and all the stories in the news. No one female or male, child, teen or adult should not be afraid to speak up nowadays. However, the reality is, people are still afraid to speak up, because they are made to feel that they caused the incident to happen. I especially like the “boundaries list” of what should and should not happen while mentoring or being mentored.
I also would like to you some advice on your blog. For me this article was very difficult to read because the font is so light. I had to highlight the font in order to be able to read it. So you might want to find a darker or brighter colored font.
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Hi Mark! You are absolutely right about people turning the tables and “blaming the victim.” Once you are wise to those tactics, it is much easier to deal with it. Thank you for the advice on the font too! I am always happy to have helpful feedback. I will look into new and better fonts/colors, since readability is so important. 🙂
I’m never sure if “anchors” learn how to be this way, or are they just naturally like that? In either case, I suppose they are used to getting their way. I applaud you for coming up with a systematic approach to dealing with such behaviors. Sadly many people get taken advantage of by this type of person.
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Greetings Deanna! I have always wondered the same thing myself! I suppose family upbringing might play a role, but also when kids and people find tactics that get them what they want, they tend to become habits. (Especially if they don’t perceive that they are hurting others.) I do know that many people who violate boundaries are unaware of the other person’s feelings and what it is doing to them. Nice people are very conscientious of what might hurt others and often are too subtle in their approach. I have learned through experience that sometimes you have to be much more blunt and straightforward, and once they realize they have overstepped a boundary, they are happy to respect it.
I love this! I feel like there are a lot of people in the world that just want to do right and make others happy and that is a beautiful thing. However there are also the Donna’s that suck the life out of the people with the beautiful intentions. Defining and setting those expectations is key!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Absolutely, Jennifer! Somehow they have to be made aware of the boundaries and the consequences. Nice and generous people seem to magnetically attract these types of people, unfortunately.
This is so important and needed right now! I am sharing with my husband. We have a new custom Home building company and I am constantly explaining how some customers aren’t worth the headache, and we can’t always bend over backwards for them all… we just won’t be successful! Sharing with him to get someone else’s perspective thank you!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Hello Reilly! I think that happens a lot in the home building industry, especially when customers know you are starting out and trying to get established! I haven’t done this personally, but I have heard that you can price these people out of your business. You might consider making a list of they typical problems you have with these problem customers and then including how you will handle these demands in your contracts with a pricing structure. You could also include language that allows you to modify the prices of extra activities, since we all know labor and materials costs tend to rise over time. Make the prices worth your time for the headache it causes. Charge a lot for these extra headaches!! Also, be sure to include a list of all the things you DON’T DO in the contract. When they ask for the extras be sure to remind them of the price, or that your business doesn’t preform tasks that are outside of your core business activities. You could also remind them that you have to be fair, and that preforming tasks outside of the contract isn’t allowed by your insurance or attorney – whatever applies. You guys will get the hang of this as you go!
LOVED this article, especially when you said, “People who are perpetual boundary violators have no respect for you or themselves. They will suck all your resources and drive you to drink if you let them!” I am just starting out my career and have already started to realize who those boundary violators are. Thanks for outlining how to deal with them!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
You are welcome, Shayne! Boundary violators have surfaced in every single endeavor I have ever undertaken. It’s always going to happen, but having a plan has always helped me, otherwise I feel like a deer caught in the headlights. Not being caught off-guard really does help!
Oh my gosh I really needed to read this! What an excellent article. Recently two of whom I thought were my best friends drained me because of all they were asking of me. We all three are starting businesses…not together. Every day they were asking me to do stuff for their business and I felt guilty for not doing it. I was so busy doing their business stuff that it’s been two years and I barely had anything done on my business. One day I finally told them no. I have not heard from them since. When I have text them they won’t even respond yet a day or two later I get a text from one of them asking me to do something again. I have had the courage to text them that I am sorry but I don’t have the time and then don’t hear from them again until they want something else. I have felt very hurt I have busted my butt for their businesses and they can’t answer a simple text for opinions on mine. My hubby has said that they were bullying me and I just didn’t recognize it. I made excuses that they are busy and thus don’t have the time to answer my texts. This article has opened my eyes to the reality. They indeed were boundary vampires. Thank you.
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Hi Karie! I am so sorry that they are treating you this way! You deserve much better friendships for sure. I know it feels so personal and like a betrayal, but it truly reflects back on them and their shallow actions towards you. It is much harder when it is friends or family that act like this. You have a true gift and talent for being generous and helpful that will bring blessings to so many people. When you add the healthy boundaries to this, you are protecting your gift and can strengthen it even more. Preventing the anemia that comes from boundary vampires will be so essential to your success. Look at it this way: If you don’t protect your gifts and talents from people who do this, you are depriving all of the other people you are meant to help. It’s not selfish, its good stewardship.
This is highly relatable 🙂 I also shared with my husband that gets bullied by his business partner. It can be so hard for the rules to get blurry! Thank you!
Jaimie Pendergrass says
Hi Darla! Yes, blurry rules definitely cause issues, and when something isn’t clear there is a tendency to assume. The problem is we all assume differently. It’s best to spell it out and agree first.