Stay In Your Lane
The first time I ever worked with an office assistant I was still an individual contributor. Up until then, I had always taken care of my faxing, copying and scheduling activities. The office assistant actually supported two separate teams and two unit directors and was understandably very busy. So I thought I was being thoughtful to continue to handle all of my own work rather than hand it off. I remember thinking, “Well I am able to do it, so I should” and I felt good that I had not added more to her plate. This continued until one day the office assistant came up to me and asked me with concern why I was doing her job. It caught me completely off guard and I instantly understood how wrong I was. This was her job. Obviously one that she was proud of and found security in. Even though my intention was innocent, by overstepping my boundaries I was taking away from her role on the team and causing her to become concerned.
But sometimes our boundaries are not so well defined and the blur can have other ramifications. I was a very young mother when I had my son, Ethan. In addition to my lack of experience, Ethan was born with congenital heart defects that threatened his life creating an even greater uncertainty in my ability to care for him and keep him safe. When he was one month old, I moved back home to New York to be close to family. Both sets of my parents were very involved with their first grandchild and would even attend doctor’s appointments with me. I was always thankful for their support and honestly even relieved when they scooped Ethan up and took over as the caretaker. This continued beyond Ethan’s three open-heart surgeries. My parents were always a call away and ready to drop anything to help. They even offered to have him stay overnight for extended periods of time. I was still terrified I was not a good enough mother and when we hit bumps along the road and I continued to be rescued it was actually a disservice. My parent’s intentions couldn’t have been more admirable but each time I was rescued the message I continued to receive was because YOU aren’t a capable mother and YOU can’t handle this situation further validating my fears. My parent’s help was actually inhibiting my growth as a mother and I know there were times when they felt resentful for having to step in so often. It wasn’t until I set boundaries, experienced and handled difficulties without being rescued that I quickly blossomed into a more confident mother and understood how not honoring our roles and responsibilities hurt all of us.
This is an interesting scenario to consider. We all know it’s a bad thing when a megalomaniac supervisor or abusive partner uses power to purposefully keep you small, but what about all of the times we make a decision for someone else because we think we know the best answer for them and want to save them the trouble? Do you recognize you’re actually deciding whether or not they get to use their voice aka stealing their power? Or when we step in and do something that is technically someone else’s responsibility but we want it done now or right that we’ve potentially stolen a growth opportunity from them? Or worse yet, if we never even delegated responsibility. How may that be inhibiting someone else’s contribution (not to mention suffocating yourself with work)? When we are overprotective of our loved ones do we rob them of essential experiences that help them become confident and independent? How much of these actions are from our own fear of conflict or our tendencies towards “people pleasing”?
We are mentors, partners, parents, children, team-mates and in these relationships we are meant to work together and help each other grow. We all have different experiences and expertise to draw from but it’s all lost when we do for others rather than guiding. When we step out of our lane and into someone else’s even with the most helpful intentions we are taking something away from them and overextending ourselves. At the root of unclear boundaries in a relationship is a communication deficit and the best way to remedy is by engaging in honest conversation. Here are a few quick guidelines for establishing boundaries in safe relationships.
1. Schedule time with the people you would like to work on boundaries with. Yes, you have to set boundaries together otherwise you are continuing to steal their power by making decisions for them. Let them know your intention in a non-threatening way. Often all people in an imbalanced relationship feel resentful. Frame this as an opportunity for them and provide them with enough time to brainstorm some ideas to come prepared with.
2. Create safety. Your goal here is to establish healthy boundaries where everyone feels heard and valued. You care about how they feel and their well-being. With this in mind fight the urge to be right. Set aside everything you think you know and be open to listening and considering all perspectives. You may be surprised at what you did not know. Encourage all participants to do the same.
3. Define your roles in the relationship. Understand who you are in the relationship and who the others are such as mother, partner, child, babysitter etc.
4. Define your expectations of the roles. Much like an informal job description identify who is responsible for what and if necessary, how each person would like to be supported in their role. If you are the mentor/parent, consider how you can define roles that empower others and challenge them to learn and grow.
5. Plan follow-up discussions. This may feel like overkill but it’s a great way to (1) hold each other accountable and (2) discuss what’s working and what needs to be modified. Setting aside regular time to check in will allow everyone to continue to ask for what they need in the relationship, feel valued and heard.
Jill Byron is a certified holistic health coach and registered yoga teacher. Learn more at SimpleHeartHealth.com.