People Skills Consulting, Wellington
Articles by Madeleine

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Is it time to reset your boundaries?


Are you feeling stressed, pushed around, agreeing to do things for people when you don’t really want to?

Maybe this is because you have let your personal boundaries slip.

Boundaries are the limits and expectations you set for yourself and of others, for how you behave and for how they behave around you.

Unclear boundaries can leave you feeling vulnerable, walked over, possibly mistreated and taken for granted. Healthy boundaries leave you safe from those who would take advantage of you, keep you from doing things you would prefer not to do, and you end up with a healthy respect of yourself and others have a healthy respect of you.

It may also be that you are not holding yourself accountable for your own boundaries.

I went to a wedding of a family friend recently and noticed on several occasions during the time coming up to the wedding when services that had been paid for were then reneged on by the service provider shortly before the wedding. In one situation the provider rang the bride to say that the benches (for all the guests to sit on outside during the wedding service) could not be delivered at all on the day of the wedding!!!.

How could a customer focused business even think for one moment that was the correct response and yet the owner of the benches calmly conveyed to the bride that they were handing the problem over.

The second occasion was several breaches at once. The venue was not opened at the agreed time for the wedding party to come and beautify it, (this meant 10 people sitting around outside the venue for over an hour) and the venue has been left filthy and full of disused equipment and furniture when the commitment had been made that it would be clear and clean. A full hour of clearing and clearing before any chance of making things look great. No apology, no recognition of the impact and inconvenience.

The last occasion was on the same day when the person providing the chair coverings said that they had made a mistake with the date and could now no longer deliver them. Could someone drive 30 mins into town to collect them. When they arrived the numbers of each item were incorrect on the inventory.

What has happened to our values that we cannot keep a promise or we are so busy we do not notice the detail. However as you can imagine for the bride and her family this was very difficult to manage.


The Accountability Ladder is a useful tool.


When you’re faced with a challenge, it can be helpful to think of the choice you are making– will you acknowledge the reality of the situation and take responsibility for finding a way through? Or will you become a “victim” of the situation?

The ladder of accountability describes the range of common reactions to a challenge. When you choose to be accountable and ‘above the line’ you are also giving yourself more influence over the outcome.

Conversely if you choose a ‘below the line’ response, you risk being seen as powerless, with little to contribute in terms of the outcome.

So if you think your boundaries need a little sharpening up – here are some ideas:


  • Firstly who are you noticing is beginning to treat you in ways you would prefer they didn’t? Students?, Senior Staff?, Admin staff?, Colleagues?, family
  • Now write down what they are doing that leaves you feeling unsettled or disturbed
  • Next create a plan for how you are going to address this


Inviting others to work with us in new ways can be challenging for them and for you. Think about how you are going to assertively express yourself.


Here is an assertiveness tool to use:


Assertiveness LADDER tool

1. Look at your rights and goal in the situation

2. Arrange a time and place to discuss the situation

3. Define the problem specifically

4. Describe your feelings

5. Express your request simply and firmly

6. Reinforce the other person to give you what you want

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