In my previous article we explored what you need to consider when you want to set boundaries and have decided you need to say no to certain people and in certain situations.


In this article we’ll focus on how you implement what you’ve decided, in a way that feels ok to you and to others. However it’s important to be aware that as with anything new, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable, at least initially. And that how others feel is not within your control and therefore cannot be guaranteed, no matter how much you wish or try to make it so!

We’ll explore the following three areas:

  1. How to set boundaries and enforce them.
  2. How to say no assertively.
  3. How to assert a boundary you’ve not upheld in the past.

#1.  How to Set Boundaries and Enforce Them - the 3 step process

Enforcing a boundary is generally a collaborative process. Where you assert your needs, you state whether it’s a deal-breaker for you, and then you collaborate on a way forward.  And it starts with you acknowledging the other person, or acknowledging their choices, rather than judging them.

Here’s an example in relation to unacceptable behaviour from a partner:

Step 1.  Acknowledge  

“It’s ok if you choose to stay out after work and not inform me” 

Step 2.  State the boundary

“But it doesn’t work for me. I value honesty and communication, and it makes me feel disrespected”

Step 3.  Is this a Deal-Breaker?

If yes i.e. you’d rather be single than in a relationship with someone who does this consistently

"If this continues you need to be aware that it will be the end of our relationship"

?If no…it’s simply an annoyance rather than a deal breaker, then collaborate on a way forward. So you might say something like

“What can we do to make sure this boundary is respected in future? Maybe you can help me understand why you do this, so we can work out a way for us both to get what we need?”

#2.  How to Say No Assertively

Saying no assertively and with grace, follows the same three step process as enforcing a boundary. So, for example, if a business colleague is asking you to get involved in a new opportunity, it might sound something like this:

Step 1.  Acknowledge  

“Thanks for asking" or "Thanks for thinking of me”

Step 2.  State the boundary

“But that doesn’t work for me for the foreseeable future”

Step 3.  Is this a Deal-Breaker?

Most requests are unlikely to be deal-breakers, although they may have consequences e.g. in the case of a child who repeatedly asks for something after being told no…

"I’ve said no, and if you ask again there will be no more…….today, tomorrow, or for the next week!”

If no…Collaborate.  Back to the business colleague request...

“I may be able to look at this again next year. Would that work for you?”

It’s worth noting here that there is no need to apologise.

It’s often cleaner and kinder to simply state your boundary and move on. So instead of saying “I’m sorry but I’m really busy, or I have a million and one things to do you right now” you can simply say “Thanks for asking but it really doesn’t work for me right now/this week/this month/this year”

One last point in relation to saying no.

Remember the people in your list from step 1 in my previous article….those people you’re not really close to or have a true connection with (often strangers or acquaintances)? In order to preserve your sanity and stop the mental, emotional and spiritual drain on your energy that comes from agreeing to (or not saying no to) requests, because you don’t want to let someone down, or because you feel embarrassed or awkward in the moment.

In these situations it’s okay to simply say “No” or “No thank you”, and leave it at that.

Not because you don’t care whether that person gets what they need, or you’re not interested in their cause or concern, but because you’ve prioritised the people most important to you. And in order to say yes to them you really must say no to everyone else.

#3  How to Uphold a Boundary You've Not Upheld in The Past

Now there will have been times in the past you’ve been in a situation where you’ve had a boundary that you’ve either not asserted or not upheld….you know those times when you’ve gone along with something even after you’ve expressed concern or said no?

Like the friend who only calls you when convenient for her, asking you to meet at short notice. And you’ve mentioned that it's not easy for you to change plans, yet you let her talk you into it? Or you don’t necessarily have anything specific planned for that afternoon but you were looking forward to some free time, or to catching up with your work. However because you feel guilty or because it feels selfish, you say yes?

Now obviously in these situations, telling someone you’re not okay with something will likely come as a surprise, and they’d quite rightly assert “Well you were ok with it the last time, and every time before that!”

So, instead of working through the same three step process, I suggest you find a time to talk to them about it separately. What I mean by this is be proactive……don’t wait till the next time your friend tests this boundary.

Here is How to Reclaim Your Power in These Conversations:

Step 1.  Acknowledge the past

It’s important here not to lay the blame on the other person but to take responsibility for your part in what’s been happening. Remember, your purpose is to get your boundary respected. So in the example above you might say something like

“ Anne, I know I’ve always said yes in the past to meeting up at short notice, no matter what’s been happening for me at the time…”

Step 2.  Set the boundary

You need to make it clear that there’s going to be a change in the dynamics of the situation. Again, there is no need to give a reason or make excuses, after all it’s your life and the way you choose to spend your time and energy is your own business, no-one else’s.  Simply state the boundary…

"I’m not willing to do that any longer” or "I can't do that any more."

Step 3.  Then collaborate on a way forward

Try to find a way that both your needs are still met, but you maintain your boundary.  For example...

“I would like to meet up with you sometimes though, so can we discuss the best way to make this work for both of us going forward….”   Then you can offer a suggestion, and take it from there.

So there you have a three step process to follow whenever you want to set and enforce a boundary and when saying no.

What conversations do you want to set up so that you can assert your boundaries and keep them strong. Who do you need to say no to? And how will you ensure that you’ll actually stick to this commitment so that you trade long-term resentment for short-term discomfort?

Please do tell, and if you want my help with this check out Success Club Personal small group coaching programmes.