Your Problem is not my Problem : Setting Boundaries

Set Boundaries

The Dreaded Request:

“Can you please..?”

These can be some of the most dreadful words that you could ever hear when it comes from certain people. An urgent unexpected request that we have said ‘Yes’ out of being nice. And then we curse ourselves and comply with the request. Or come up with an absurd lie and hope to not get caught.

The problem is because we fail to set boundaries in our relationship with others. How do we set boundaries and win back our life?

Let’s look at a few common examples and  consider suitable ways to handle it.

Demanding Acquaintances :

Relationships are all about give and take. But the give and take must be done out of love and not out of obligation. This was an actual request received by someone close to me from his ‘friend’.

What Requester Says: “You know my Birthday is next month right. This new Samsung Galaxy phone is launching around then. Lucky for you amazon has sale also around then. I’d prefer Black one.”

What Requester thinks: “No one can say no to a B’day Girl can they. He has a good salary, he can surely afford this”

What you thinks: “Samsung Galaxy… I got my parents a Rs.1000/- silver ware for their silver jubilee anniversary and she wants a Samsung Galaxy for her birthday. And She didn’t even send me a wedding gift. can I disappoint someone on their B’day? I’m too nice for that !! I hope my wife doesn’t find out !!

What you say: “I will surely look into it”

What you must say instead: “You should definitely get yourself what you want for your birthday. I will send you my best wishes as always”

This is a technique a lot of sales people use as well. They try to put your focus on your ability to afford something. But the question you must ask yourself is,

“It is not about if I can, but it is about if I should ?”

Boundaries: DoNotCross

Be Polite but firm

After ‘Shark Tanks’ and the startup craze, this has become a popular request.

Request: “Can I buy you coffee. I am working on something and want to pick your brain. What works best for you – saturday afternoon or sunday?” said the school friend who hadn’t called in a decade.

What the requester thinks: “I know him from my school days and he is in this technology. Let me bounce my ideas of him for the price of a coffee.What does he have to lose?”

Good Response: “I have some personal commitments around then, may be later.”

Better: “Weekend is my family time and I’d prefer to spend it with them. Send me a detailed email and I will let you know if it is something I can help you with.”

Don’t promise to consider a request at a later date if you do not intend to. You will only end up going through the same situation over and over again. Be upfront and say ‘No’

Poor Me
Poor Me

Don’t feel compelled to Justify your No

Request: “Salary not yet credited, but this electronics sale on is on only for today and stocks are depleting. Can I please borrow your credit card” says the colleague and holds his hand out for you to give the card.

Suitable Response:”Sorry. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my credit card.”

The tendency to put a reason for something is so high, that I felt uncomfortable following up with people who owed me money, unless I invented a reason for desperate need for money for some urgent expenses.

Don’t be a Hero : Your Problem is not my Problem

What I often see in people who repeatedly get get stuck in situations like this is they feel responsible for the situations that the other person had chosen for themselves. For example, in a situation like this,

Request:“ Hey I am arriving to your city at 2 AM. Can you please pick me up. It’s an odd hour and I don’t trust anyone else”

What you think “She knows no one else. She trusts me. I can’t betray her trust. But It’s going to ruin my whole night and the following day. I hate this !!!”

What truly is, “She chose a 2 AM flight even though she does not feel comfortable to commute at that hour by herself”

Suitable response: “Great to know you will be in town. 2 AM is really late for me too. I can arrange a known trust worth cabby to pick you up or you can stay in the airport hotel till daybreak and catch a taxi if that makes you feel safer. I’ll see you around for lunch or dinner during your stay”

Prioritize your needs over that of others

What neighbour says (Request): “Can my daughter play with yours, I am cooking a surprise meal for my husband for his birthday. Bye sweety” and kisses her daughter goodbye.

What neighbour thinks: “Let her go play in the neighbour’s home and I can work in peace.”

What you think: “ now. The two kids will turn the whole house upside down. I’m too tired to deal with it now.”

What you end up saying: “She is such a sweet kid. Always happy to have her around.”

Suitable Response: “Surprise meal sounds cool. But it’s my daughter’s nap time. She is not going to be able to play now. And I’m also going to get a short nap before I go do other household chores. Now is not the right time.”

Set the right expectations:

Unreasonable requests and timelines at work from authority is always hard to deny. As an employee, we often feel obligated to say yes to everything.

What Boss Says:“I forgot to tell you yesterday to prepare report X. I have a meeting in an hour with the management, can you please send it across to me in the next 20 mins” says the boss.

What Boss thinks:It may be a good reference report to have for the meeting. Let me just ask the team to send it, just in case if I need it.

What You think: “Oh my God.. That’s one time taking report and I am not even sure I have all the data for it !! 20 mins impossible…. “

What You Say: “Sure Boss. Anything for you”

What would have been an appropriate response:

“Hey boss, I’d love to help you with this one. But this report takes me about an hour to prepare and another 20 mins to verify. I don’t think I’d be realistically be able to give you an accurate report by this timeline. I can send you prev. weeks report for your reference and have this weeks report for you before your start of day tomorrow.”

My time and My Place, not Yours:

Request: “ I had to return something to your aunt. I will leave it at my uncle’s house.  Do collect it before you leave town tonight. And drop it your aunt’s place on the way to your home.”

What the requester think: “I am kind of busy. They must be anyway be going to both the places and is not much a detour even if they are not. ”

What you think: “Why the hell should I go collect something that is of no relevance to me at a time and place of their bidding.”

What you say: “Ya sure. Send me the address.”

A Better response: “I don’t think I would be able to prioritize that in my schedule. If you can drop it in my house or airport though, I will let Aunt know that she can pick it up from my place.”

To Conclude

What is common here is that most people do not consider the needs of the person who they are making the request to and are often obsessed with their own needs and requirements. Most of the times, subtly pointing out that your needs don’t match theirs should often do the trick. You have to acknowledge that your inability to set clear boundaries was as much of a problem that led to this. Don’t turn that into a badge of honor and sacrifice to use it as an excuse to avoid handling the situation.

“You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and will not accept” Ann Taylor

This works well with colleagues, friends and relations. But how does one do it with your parents, best buddies and better half? Here is a great post that covers this topic well: How to Set Healthy Dating and Relationship Boundaries

Published by

Priya Krishnamoorthy

Exploring the Journey of life everyday with a new outlook