Assign a 'primary' menu

Setting Boundaries in your Business (and beyond)

In some of my business groups, I’ve been seeing a lot of panicked posts about clients taking advantage of a person’s time, energy, graciousness, etc.

Here’s an example of what I’m seeing:

“Help! My clients have asked me to make another round of revisions and I’ve already spent more time on this client than I intended to. I feel like they’re taking advantage of me. What do I do?”

Have you ever felt this way? Like you had to have an awkward conversation? Or just do what the other person wants to make the client happy? Or like you just wanted to run away? 🙂

I’ll admit, most of these posts are coming from women.

I hate when that happens. I like to compete in a man’s world, and I want my fellow women to feel confident doing so, too.

But what’s irritating me even more is that a whole bunch of other women are commenting with advice like, “just quit!” or, “set boundaries!”

Both of those pieces of advice feel really icky to me. And I’m going to tell you why, and what you can do instead if you feel like you aren’t happy in a current business relationship.

Don’t Quit

Ok, maybe quit. I don’t know the circumstances, but don’t use that as your first reaction. Think about it this way… name a skill that you know nothing about. Literally nothing. For me, it might be car mechanics. Or building a house. Or web design. I don’t know these things. If I were to hire someone to complete a task for me, I’d have no idea the time or effort that it might take a professional to complete. And I won’t have a clue about the process.

Here’s an example: This happened a few years ago when my son was just a few days old. I was in no mood to do anything around the house beyond the basics. Then, the trash disposal broke. I probably could have tinkered around with it, but I decided just to call someone. The man gets there, looks at it, and tells me it will be $75. I say fine. He has me pay before he starts. I find this strange, but I pay. He takes a wrench, resets the disposal (in less than 3 seconds, seriously), and walks out. Now, had I known that he just needed to reset it (something that I could have easily done), I probably wouldn’t have paid the $75. In fact, I never would have called him to the house. I would have done it myself. But I was clueless and tired and in no mood to Google solutions to trash disposals, so I paid for it.

But it works the other way too. I recently asked a designer, who I have worked with before and trust wholeheartedly, to make a small tweak on my ecommerce site. Well… I thought it was just a little tweak. I was expecting  it to take her an hour or two at the most. Turns out, it was a major overhaul and she wasn’t even able to do it, had I been willing to pay for the time. But I didn’t know because I’m not skilled in that area.

She could have turned around and felt offended that I dare ask her to make such an enormous change for my expected budget. She could have stressed over what to say, or how to get the change done anyway. Or, she could have just quit the entire job because she felt like I was taking advantage of her.

That would have backfired on all of us. She would have lost a client, I would have stood here clueless, wondering where my great designer went.

But she didn’t. Instead, she just told me the truth. All it took was a simple conversation. It wasn’t awkward. It was just a straight forward, casual discussion.

Because, like most things, it’s all about clear communication.

So… isn’t that just setting boundaries?

I hate the term “setting boundaries.” It feels cold to me. It feels like someone is assuming others are just out to get them. Like people are just waiting to attack when clear markers and boundaries are not firmly in place.

Am I saying you should be a doormat? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that clear communication, and education, is a much better way to look at it. Boundaries keep someone from invading. Having to have a conversation with someone to “set those boundaries” feels aggressive and scary.

But it shouldn’t be. It’s not. (At least, not in a healthy relationship, business or otherwise.)

It’s just a conversation. It’s an interaction between two people. Chill. Casual. It’s nice… light. No need to make it more than it is.

My advice is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes without the assumptions that others have malicious intentions. Assume the best of others. And approach them with the intent to inform and discuss. This simple mindset shift turns a potentially scary argument into a friendly conversation that ends with everyone having a clearer sense of what’s going on.

Your client will thank you for it. And you’ll feel the relief that comes with a more balanced business relationship.

About the Author Sandy Donovan

Sandy empowers the young and talented to increase their power and influence by improving their ability to be heard and be clear. She does this by providing access to rigorously tested research in the communication, psychology, and marketing fields.