What are you teaching them?

Each one of our interactions with others teach them something about us and vice versa. They may learn we are kind, caring, rude, get angry quickly, is very sensitive, stay calm and collected, or will stand our ground. We also learn how the other person behaves in various situations. Each of these nuggets of information shape our interaction with that person over time.

Years ago, I had a phone conversation with someone who was so angry and was berating me for not having the answer he wanted. I shared what was fact and it set him off. I finally spoke up and told him if he continued to yell, I was hanging up. He sputtered and said I wouldn’t dare. My response was “How long have you known me? Yeah I will.” He settled down and we resolved the issue. Our calls after that were not always great, we were in a terrible situation at work, and yet he never raised his voice again. He learned I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of abuse.

Flash forward a decade and I find myself in a call with a close colleague who is really upset about how something is going, and she snaps at me over the situation. She wouldn’t listen or accept my answers. I was so surprised by it all I let her rant at me. Over the next couple of years, I found her yelling at me, ranting about my choices and at times out right attacking me for what I had done. Since I didn’t cut it off at the first instance it kept happening. I attempted to fix the core issues however, I didn’t set the right boundaries on how she communicated with me. By the end of my time at that company, we had no real working relationship as there was no trust on either side.

In both cases I taught the other person how they could talk to me. One worked well, the other not so much. So how can we make sure we have healthy boundaries for communication? Here are 4 strategies for maintaining good boundaries:

  1. Be clear. In the first situation I was very clear that I would not accept being talked to in that manner and it set the proper tone. Say what you will not tolerate. Name it and hold to it.
  2. Take a break. If someone is arguing with you, suggest a break for at least 20 minutes for everyone to calm down. If you step away to calm down, you both can come back ready to listen.
  3. Be an example. If you want someone to treat you professionally, speak to you respectfully and listen to you then you must do that with them and everyone else. As you build a reputation for being professional in your communications people will respond in kind.
  4. Be firm. If you have set a boundary and someone crosses it, you can’t accept it as a one-off occurrence. You must address it. If they get to do it once, then they will do it again. If you respectfully call them on their behavior. If they give you a reason that explains a change in behavior, then be kind and understanding while stating you aren’t okay with their behavior.

When I have set clear boundaries and held firm to them, I have had better working relationships with people. Every time I have made exceptions it has not gone well. We really do teach people how to talk to us through our behaviors and what we allow.

Teach people to be professional by being professional yourself and holding them accountable to that standard. You deserve it.


50% Complete


Please enter your name and email to stay up to date.

We hate spam so we can promise your information will never be sold or shared.