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Talking Boundaries #2: Changing the Outcomes of Our Conversations


We closed my last article with the suggestion of Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependence, to avoid using the phrase "made me" as it attempts to push the responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions onto the other person, causing them to become defensive.

Consider the following two conversations. Both are prompted by a situation at work in which a colleague and yourself have engaged in a battle of wills. For the sake of simplicity, let's say the disagreement is about when the weekly staff meeting occurs. Your colleague is a morning person and wants to start the meeting Mondays at 9:00 AM. You are not an early riser, not only do you function best in the afternoon, but you like to have time directly before the Monday meeting to settle in, prepare and check your weekend email. You want the staff meeting to begin at 1. One week, without speaking to you about it, she moves the meeting to 9:00 AM. You arrive at work at 8:55 AM and find you need to head straight to the meeting - feeling unprepared and anxious.

"Samantha, when I arrived at work this morning and discovered the time of the meeting had been changed, I became really anxious and frustrated. I felt disappointed I would have no time to prepare for the meeting or check my email. During the meeting I felt unprepared to present exactly where my department stands this week. The next time you change the time of the meeting may I ask that you kindly let me know beforehand?"

or

"Samantha, when I arrived at work this morning and discovered the time of the meeting had been changed, it made me really upset. It isn't fair of you to change the time of the meeting without warning me first. I needed time to prepare and never had any. Because of how you handled this, I looked like I was not on the top of my game in front of the team and said something I wouldn't have had I had time to read my emails first. You need to talk to me before you change the time."

A simple example from our personal lives might be with a partner who is habitually late. Our response reflects whether we have healthy boundaries and take responsibility for ourselves.

"When you are late, you make me mad. It is so disrespectful. Can't you ever be on time!?"

or

"When you are late, I feel devalued. I become hurt and angry. I feel like my time and feelings are not being respected. Can we please schedule our dates for a time that works for both of us? Then, If something comes up and you are still going to be late, can you call and let me know?"

Owning our feelings means not blaming someone else for how we are feeling. No one can make us feel anything. Owning our reality keeps the other person from feeling a need to defend their behavior; but more importantly, it forces us to realize we are in control of our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We are who is responsible for them. We can change how we respond. It is doable with practice.

As Epictetus shared: It's not what happens to us that matters; it is how we respond to it.

Pia notes that it is easier for the listener to hear us if we take this concept a step further and start using the use the phrases: "what I made myself feel about that is..." or "what I made myself think about that is..." or "the story I made up in my head about this was..." Becoming more conversationally intelligent is helpful especially if we are addressing a boundary violation on their part and asking them to change the way they treat us. We want to do so in a way that doesn't trigger defensiveness. When we do so, they can listen better because they are not busy formulating their defense while we are speaking.

In effect, the internal talking boundary prevents us from being obnoxious or offensive as we share. While we aren't responsible for the way other people respond to us, we are responsible for our actions.

In closing, remember:

"Owning your own feelings, rather than blaming them on someone else, is the mark of a person

who has moved from contracted to expanded awareness." Deepak Chopra

Do you have a relationship in your life where there is continual conflict over the same issue? How might you be able to change your communication to impact the outcome of the conversation?

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