Enforcing Boundaries

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Enforcing Boundaries

Enforcing Boundaries

The most difficult part of maintaining a healthy boundary is enforcement. Enforcing a boundary may trigger conflict, and conflict can be quite uncomfortable.

Whenever possible, consequences should be enforced; however, in some situations the choice may be made to not enforce a boundary. We will discuss those situations in the next section.

Choosing not to enforce a boundary carries potential problems:

  1. Trust is created when a boundary is enforced:
    1. A boundary and its consequences are promises.
    2. Not imposing a boundary breaks the promises; this is, or appears to be, deceitful.
    3. Deceit creates an untrusting relationship.
    4. It is harder to set future boundaries when trust has been broken.
  2. If we make concessions too often, we invalidate the boundary.
  3. A boundary that needs to be changed often is one that was not well formulated to begin with.

If a boundary turns out to be unenforceable, the consequence need to be reevaluated and realistic ones formulated.

Evaluating Consequences

There are two questions to ask when evaluating whether a consequences should be enforced:

  1. Why was the boundary broken?
  2. What will be the results if the consequence is not applied?

The flexibility one gives to a consequence depends on the severity of the outcome when that boundary is broken.

  1. There is more flexibility if the outcome is rather minor.
  2. There is less flexibility If the outcome:
    1. Is severe.
    2. Is costly.
    3. Promotes habitual behavior.

Using the previous example, if the report was extremely important and our own supervisor needed it first thing the next morning, the outcome is severe, so there is not any latitude to give more time.

Intent is another consideration when evaluating boundaries. Enforcing boundaries may be inappropriate if a boundary is broken:

  1. By accident.
  2. Through no action on the part of the other person.

However, boundaries should be adhered to if the boundary was broken by:

  1. Intent.
  2. Carelessness.
  3. Habit.

For example, we communicate to a staff member that we need a certain report by the end of the day and if he or she does not complete the report he or she will be required to stay late to finish the task.

  • At the end of the day we have not received the report.
  • The staff member says he or she has to get home for a child's birthday party.

How do we know whether to enforce the boundary or change it? We are better off enforcing the boundary if:

  1. The person was given ample time to complete the task.
  2. The person chose to complete other tasks that are lower priority.

We are likely to not enforce consequences if:

  1. We know that the person had done everything within his or her power to complete the task.
  2. The person encountered obstacles outside of their own control.

We may search for a compromise if:

  1. If the outcome for not completing the report is severe.
  2. Flexibility is reasonable and justifiable.

To exemplify the third point, one might allow the person to go home with the report unfinished, provided he or she returns to work early the next morning to complete the task before normal work hours.


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