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.
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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!