Do you find yourself exploding when you finally set boundaries because you waited too long to communicate them?
Is it difficult for you to assert your preferences and desires?
Or does it feel like you can’t control your tone of voice or the energy you bring to a boundary conversation?
If this resonates, you are not alone. Many of my clients and students experience these challenges. And while it might feel like setting boundaries is ineffective right now, this does not have to be where your boundary journey begins and ends.
Because I see this so often, this entire episode is about bringing the appropriate tone and body language to the boundary-setting process. You’ll also get proactive boundary success steps to ensure your tone and body language match what you say and how you want it to be received.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Do Energy and Tone Matter When Setting Boundaries?
The energy with which you deliver your boundaries (or anything!) is how the other person will receive it.
When boundaries are new, having constricted, frustrated, or angry energy around them is normal. This energy might get in the way of your tone or body language when you set a boundary, too. (Especially if setting a boundary feels like a confrontation.)
Your words may not be aggressive or hostile, but if your energy is, the other person will likely feel hostility.
Likewise, if you have timid energy and seek permission for your boundary (“Hey, is it okay if…?”), they will feel that, too.
Worse, if the person is manipulative and they sense you being overly apologetic about your boundary request, they may try to take control of the situation.
And if you act like they should be offended, then they probably will be.
The energy with which you deliver your boundaries matters.
When I was a talent agent, I felt like I had a lot of power to set the tone of a contract negotiation by coming to the conversation with calm energy.
To set the stage, I would say, “Hey Bob, I know you are just doing your job, and I am just doing my job. None of this is personal, and I have no doubt we will come to terms.”
I’m not necessarily suggesting you use these exact words in a boundary negotiation, but the vibe you bring has everything to do with how it is received.
Take a minute to think about your tone of voice when you make a boundary request.
Do you end up saying things with anger because you waited too long to speak up?
How often do you approach someone with a boundary request and it doesn’t go as well as you hoped?
If you were to think more deeply about the interaction – about your tone, energy, and body language – what was behind your words? What might the other person have perceived?
Words are only one part of a boundary request because we are whole beings.
I can give you the perfect words to say to someone, but if you say those perfect words with annoyance, sarcasm, or aggression, the words won’t matter. Instead, the person will feel and react to your vibe.
The guide contains a proactive boundary success plan which takes tone, body language, and energy into account.
Creating a Proactive Boundary Success Plan
Let’s move into what you can do to make your boundary requests more effective.
Step One: Identify Who, What + When
First, you need to clarify three things:
- Who are you talking to?
- What boundary is needed?
- When is a good time to make the request?
1) Who are you talking to?: You know the players in your life and how they react and respond. You know who is defensive and who is more open-hearted. You know who is more secure and insecure. How this person might respond will influence the tone or energy you bring.
2) What boundary is needed?: What is the request, limit, or deal-breaker you need to tell the other person? You want to be clear and specific. Telling your partner, “I need you to be more sensitive” is not helpful.
Instead, you could say, “I’d like to make a simple request that you put your phone down when I talk to you about something important. I would feel loved and listened to if you gave me your full attention when I talk about this because it is important to me.”
Of course, we do not know if your partner will follow through. Hopefully, they will, but being specific about the request helps them understand your needs more than, “I need you to be more sensitive.”
3) When is a good time to make the request? If the person you need to speak with is not a morning person, don’t have the conversation with them first thing in the morning.
Is it easier to talk after work? When you are out to dinner? In the car? If it is your partner, do you have a regular check-in when you can bring it up? (I recommend having a State of the Union every two weeks to normalize these discussions.)
If the person is cramming for a big talk or it is the fourth quarter and they are an accountant, you probably want to approach them once they are out of their busy season.
You want to make your boundary request when the other person is likely to have the capacity to receive it. That’s not to say wait for the exact “perfect” time cuz it might never come but you can be strategic based on what you know about the other person.
Step Two: Visualize the Conversation
There is something powerful about visualizing yourself with a smile on your face, standing firm in your boundary, and doing it with love and kindness.
While you visualize having the conversation, feel yourself embodying courage and calm.
There is no reason to be aggressive or assume this person will reject us or disagree. But if you do not say it, they can’t possibly know it.
You aren’t necessarily visualizing the person agreeing with you and getting everything you want. While I want you to get what you want, when it comes to making boundary requests, success is simply making the ask.
Your healing comes from asserting yourself and thinking about how you feel, what you want, and what you think matters enough for you to have the conversation.
Becoming a boundary boss means having these conversations often, and they won’t always go your way.
Sometimes relationships require negotiation. The other person might not immediately agree with what you are saying and they don’t need to.
As boundary-bosses-in-training, we cannot be so fragile as to say, “I am never asking for anything ever again in my life!” when we get pushback.
A) you are not that fragile, and B) your relationships are not that fragile.
It is not productive to be afraid of what appears to be rejection. It is not.
As a talent agent, I learned not to take negotiation personally. Bob from the ad agency trying to pay my person less did not mean he was trying to degrade my person or do something to me.
We are all just trying to get our needs met.
I want you to approach every boundary conversation from this point of view: you have a right to get your needs met, and you also owe it to the people in your life to tell the truth about how you feel and what you want.
This looks different depending on who you are talking to. You would approach your boss differently than you would approach a friend because of the power differential in the relationship. But it is important to realize and recognize how you feel matters, in all contexts.
Becoming fluent in the language of boundaries is a lifelong evolution, but you being accurately heard, seen, and known is worth it.
Again, your healing is in the asking. It is in asserting yourself. Whether the person agrees, disagrees, or meets you in the middle, they know more about you afterward, which is a win.
Step Three: Coming Up With the Words
You do not need to stick to a word-for-word script, but you do need to know how you want to approach the person and the conversation.
In the guide, I give you boundary request sentence starters to make the process easier. Choose to start with kindness and sweetness (as long as it is true). For example, “Hey, I appreciate the fact that you always think to include me in plans…” and then go into letting them know you are unavailable or whatever the case may be.
Step Four: Say It Out Loud
If you are relatively new to boundaries, saying the words out loud might provoke an emotional response. To help you discharge the emotion, practice saying the words in front of a mirror or roleplay with a friend.
Walking through the process ahead of time and getting the words in your body makes everything go smoother. Once you get your script, run through it a few times, and record yourself saying it.
(Tip: no matter how slow you are going, you probably want to go 10% slower, especially if this provokes anxiety.)
You can pair this with visualization, too. Here’s an example:
As you listen to your recording, see yourself telling a friend you can’t go on the vacation you committed to but can no longer attend. Think: these are the words I am using. I feel solid. I feel I have the right to change my mind. I see her receiving this with love and compassion for my situation.
There is something powerful about feeling the feelings of it happening and the way you want it to happen.
Remember, you cannot control other people. You can control yourself and what you bring to the boundary-setting conversation. From your tone to the words you say and your body language, be aware of what your whole being says to the other person.
In the visualization, say, I see myself standing tall. I see a smile on my face. I feel the feeling of being secure and centered and ready to have the conversation. It flows with ease and grace.
These tips and steps are in the guide, which you can download here. Use it to outline your proactive boundary success plan. I hope it will make you feel more secure and confident when setting boundaries. Let me know how it goes – leave me a comment here or on Instagram (@terricole).
Have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.