Setting Boundaries to Build Trust

This seems counterintuitive. Why would having firm boundaries increase trust? This is a concept I learned about from Brene Brown in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness. I imagined that if you have firm boundaries that you have created an impenetrable fortress around you. You don’t let anybody in, and in turn, certainly don’t let anybody out. Keep everyone at arm’s length.


By Brene’s definition, it means making clear what’s okay and not okay. But this is really hard for those of us who just want to please everyone. Go along to get along. I’ve been in this camp for many years, whether it was giving into crazy rules and regulations of a relationship (i.e. no music while driving, no lemon, only foreign films, etc.) or making excuses why someone is late or not being respectful. Regardless, I haven’t been very good at setting up boundaries. So, this is something new for me and about 80 percent of my coachees.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take responsibility. There is only one person who can set up your boundaries and that is you. Your Fairy Godmother is not going to come down from on high and Prince Charming won’t arrive on his stead to set up your boundaries for you. Don’t play the blame game for someone else walking all over you. There is only one person who needs to take responsibility, and that is you. I know this is hard to swallow because it is so much easier to complain about how someone treated you, instead of owning it. Take responsibility for your boundaries.


  • Know your boundaries. Take some time to articulate your boundaries.  Write them down. I don’t stay out after midnight. Never travel for business on a Sunday. Always request a booth at a restaurant. Only 25% of my business is pro bono. I agree to deadlines that are attainable. No phone calls after 7 PM. No technology at the dinner table. No more than three text or emails without a response. No committing to more than two events per week. I don’t leave my dog with a dog sitter for more than two days. Whatever they are, write them down. Know them. If you haven’t written them down then they might get blurry. Establish your boundaries.


  • Just say no. Brene writes about choosing to be uncomfortable for eight seconds when you turn something down, rather than the resentment that will eat at you if you say yes. When you can’t live with the uncomfortable eight seconds to say no, then you will end up living with resentment that will eat you up. I have done this many times. I’ve said yes to serving on boards I had no time or desire to be on. I don’t want to look like I am selfish. I’ve said yes to obligations that did not line up with my passions. The regret that comes with these decisions is a much heavier load than the eight seconds of being uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort and say no.


  • Let go of the guilt. Guilt is an inside job. Maybe my mother is carrying a load of guilt on my behalf, but besides that, all the guilt I might carry is completely created by me. I carry guilt for other folks. My daughter made the decision to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event instead of a family event. I started picking up the guilt and carrying it with me. It was not my guilt to carry. She had set a boundary and I needed to respect that. Sometimes the guilt is attributed to someone else’s boundary. Respect that and let go.  Don’t drag yours or anyone else’s guilt behind you. It is weighing you down.


  • Hold the line. Brene calls this accountability. Don’t back down once you have set your boundaries. I’ve been meditating for 30 minutes for the last 5 months. It is non-negotiable. If I have a 6 AM flight, I’ll get up at 4 AM to make sure I get my meditation in. Make sure your boundaries are non-negotiable. At this point, this boundary in my life is a habit, similar to brushing my teeth. If you hold the line long enough, it becomes second nature.


Establishing boundaries builds trust. In many ways, it is trust in yourself in that you know what is best for you. Isn’t that what it’s all about. Knowing what is best for you? What boundaries do you need to establish?

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