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Listening Boundaries #1: Protecting Yourself in an Unkind World


In my previous article, we discussed what boundaries were and how important they are to our daily life. Now let's get more specific and apply these concepts to our daily lives!

The internal listening boundary is important because it protects us from the expressed thoughts and feelings of others while still remaining open and vulnerable to those thoughts and feelings. These listening boundaries are particularly helpful to us when we are receiving feedback. Remember the touchy situation described at the beginning of my last article?

Just for a moment imagine you were recently awarded a contract with your dream client. Excited you poured your heart and soul into this engagement. Upon completion, you are understandably proud of the results. Your client seems very pleased as well. After your engagement is complete and the case study is published, you go to dinner with a group of colleagues. One of them, whom you greatly admire, has read the study and makes the comment they thought it light and not fully substantiated.

How do we respond in such a triggering situation? How does an internal listening boundary help us regulate ourselves, so we can hear and speak in ways that foster relationship when the incoming data is triggering shame or anger?

Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependency, places the incoming information in three distinct categories. As we listen to the other person talk, we ask ourselves whether the information is true, untrue or questionable. As we determine the answer to those questions, we act accordingly.

  • If it is true, we should let the information in, embrace it, and allow ourselves to have feelings about it. We should digest it and ask ourselves what we think and feel about it. Is it helpful? Does it inspire us to change or grow?

  • If we determine that the information is not true, we should allow it to bounce off our boundary. Our job is to powerfully put it aside. It is not our responsibility to change ourselves if we believe the incoming data is not true.

  • If the data is questionable, we need to gather more information from the other person about what they are trying to communicate, so we can determine if it is true or not true. This comes in the form of asking open-ended questions of the speaker. This is not a time when we want to become defensive. Rather we want to be receptive to the information the speaker is communicating with us. If we eventually determine it is untrue, then is the time to powerfully put it aside; but the information gathering process isn't a time for defense.

There are also instances when the delivery of the incoming data makes it wise to not allow the information past our listening boundary. When people speak to us in any of the following ways, it is okay to let what they are saying bounce off as untrue. For example, yelling, name-calling, ridiculing, lying, patronizing, controlling, shaming or being sarcastic. When someone treats us in these ways, we need to know how to respond so we stay connected to our value and respond from that place.

In my next article, we will discuss practical ways we can implement listening boundaries in our lives.

Are there any relationships in your life where you may have to set clear boundaries? What is at risk if you set them? What is there to gain if you set them?

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