Strong Boundaries Make Strong Businesses for Solo Professionals

wooden-fence-waterAs someone with a deep wound around rejection, I grew up with a huge need to be liked.

The first jobs I got as a kid were service-centered – where going the extra mile to please a customer was a badge of honor and led to financial and emotional rewards.

That conditioning continued through my corporate life as I worked in service industries and in helping positions – training, staffing, and organizational development, as well as marketing and sales.

Saying “no” was a quick way to be branded as “not a team player” and someone who wasn’t committed to the organization.

Out on our own, this drive to please our clients is a double-edged sword.

It can lead us to becoming the go-to person for those we serve and it can lead us to being seen as a leader in our industry segment.

But it can also cause us bending over backward to an unhealthy extreme.

Examples of going too far include any time you give so much value that you resent doing it. That’s taking over-delivering to the extreme.

It also happens when you do things for your clients and are afraid to charge them or because you want to have praise heaped on you more than you want money to flow into your bank account.

And sometimes, just as we leave ourselves open for bullies in our personal lives, being too eager to please can open you up to relationships that descend into bullying.

These business bullies can be those who use overwhelming negotiating tactics to get you to lower your prices, to give them more value than they want to pay for, or blaming you for not reading their minds and delivering on things they never asked for.

Standing up to them can be hard, but it’s a critical exercise in building your confidence muscles.

There’s a great Seinfeld episode where Elaine asks to use Jerry’s apartment while he’s out of town. The reason she needs to use it is so she can host a baby shower for a an acquaintance named Leslie who she doesn’t know very well but doesn’t really like but can’t say no to. Jerry and Elaine’s friend George considers Leslie as one of the worst dates of his life, but who he couldn’t stand up to when she humiliated him on their date.

Jerry’s predicament in the episode is he’s agreed to have Kramer’s friends install illegal cable in the apartment.

This is a great episode that shows the difficulty of standing up for ourselves with people we have a hard time saying “no” to, even though that’s what we really want to do.

Just this week I was faced with someone who I looked up to and admired who I felt was pushing me around about a project I had invited her to be on. (My husband Lou swears life is a Seinfeld episode)

She had missed every deadline she’d agreed to and then wanted me to change the completion date of the project.

And at first I was going to do it.

But then I realized what I was allowing to happen.

I realized that if I gave in I was allowing her to bully me and I was not valuing myself or my skills, nor was I acting as the leader I needed to be on the project.

So I told her the project didn’t appear to be a fit for her and while I wished her well I’d be moving on without her.

No apologies. No “It’s not you, it’s me” type of language.

It took a lot for me to be able to do that.

The old me – from even a year ago – wouldn’t have done it. I’d have given her everything she asked for, inconvenienced myself, but kept her happy (at least until the next thing she didn’t want to happen).

Of course, I made this brave stand by email 🙂 but at least I took a stand – the stand that was best for me.

The fact that she’s now unhappy about being cut out of the project isn’t my fault and it doesn’t make me a bad person.

It makes me a smart, healthy business person.

It minimizes my stress on the project, which on the whole raises my profitability because the happiness I feel about work directly impacts the quality and value of my days.

It lowers my exposure to risk. People who have extremes in their behavior and who get angry over what they perceive to be slights are unpredictable. I know people who’ve been caught up in law suits over ridiculous issues and who spent their life savings defending themselves.

It reinforces positive self-talk. Standing up to someone who’s intimidating makes me feel good, proves I can face bigger challenges, and develops my resiliency skills.

All of that takes confidence and courage.

But I didn’t always have them.

It took me years to develop them. And now that I have them, I’m not losing them again.

So if you find yourself complaining about your clients, your work, and other things in your business (or life), ask yourself what you’ve done that’s allowed those things to happen or to continue to happen (this doesn’t include violence, ok? That’s not what I’m saying here).

Ask yourself why you continue to stand for this type of behavior or these types of actions.

And face the fact that, to propel your business forward you’ve got to raise you confidence level and courageously step up for what you believe.

What types of situations do you find you lack confidence in? Share your thoughts.

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