The Value of Setting Boundaries When Dealing with Difficult People

We all come across a "difficult" person from time to time, whether at its work, in our role as a volunteer, at school, or even at home. And let's be honest, sometimes WE are the difficult person!


In order to effectively and courteously deal with difficult people, we need to learn to set boundaries. According to Dr. David Gruder, creator of the NICE™ Boundaries Method, a “boundary is any limit I need to honor so I can love or work with you without resentment and with integrity.” He also purports that boundaries can only be as clear and as strong as the extent to which we support our own wants, limits, choices, and values. So in a nutshell, it is up to us to set and hold our boundaries.


How many times has this happened to you? Your phone rings. You look at the caller ID and subconsciously hesitate to answer because you know you’re about to face an hour long phone call no matter how many times you subtly try to end the conversation. When it comes to dealing with a difficult person, the first boundary we can set is with time. Instead of simply answering the phone and letting Aunt Edna or Johnny Client bulldoze the call, start the call by setting a boundary that honors your time, as well as theirs.



For example, you can say “I know you’re calling for an important reason. I've only got 5 - 10 minutes, will that be enough time to answer your questions? If not, let's get something scheduled for when I can give you my full attention.”


A few other boundary setting phrases are:

“I'm on a deadline…”

“I've got other obligations that I need to attend to…”

“I have an appointment…”


A few examples of boundary setting phrases more specific to the workplace are:

"I'm not okay with that."

"No thanks."

"I need to let that go to someone else."

"I've just got too much on my plate."

"I need to pass, but thank you."


Being clear and firm by setting this boundary prevents people from stealing time away from us, both in our personal and professional lives. This also prevents the frustration and stress we ultimately end up feeling because we lost an hour of our day being on someone else's agenda. When you make a point to set a time boundary in a loving and respectful way, that person might not be so difficult after all!


BONUS: Did you know that having boundaries at work can create a culture of respect, increase engagement, encourage open communication, and prevent burnout?


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