One of two things often happens when we become deeply engaged in a change. We develop impermeable boundaries that can end up shutting out those whose support we need most; or we feel guilty for the time and other investments we are making in the change, and we end up with Swiss cheese for boundaries.
Both options put the change at high risk for failure.
Let’s look at the risks associated with establishing boundaries that are too restrictive.
First and foremost, really big changes are not solo expeditions. (Even if your change is about you going on a solo expedition, you will need incredible support in your preparation; it will be important to know that support is there while you are on the journey; and you will welcome the support on your return.) Boundaries that shut people out–make them feel devalued–lessen the likelihood that they will build commitment to the change.
Enrolling people in support of the change requires ongoing dialogue; if the only time that dialogue can occur is when you “let people in,” it is unlikely that the dialogue will be meaningful. And, it is unlikely that they will be deeply enrolled in supporting your change.
If your change is a big one, you most likely have neither the understanding nor the skills to pull it off alone. You need the candid advice of others. Making it difficult for them to give that advice makes it less likely that they will bother trying.
If you set your boundaries too loosely, you will never reach your destination. There will be clamors for your attention–and energy–from every direction. Those who don’t want you to go forward with the change will seek to make their arguments heard at every opportunity. Those who want changes to the change, or the way it is being implemented, will plead their cause again and again and again. And then there are those who call on you for the myriad reasons in your life other than this change. Just because the change is a major one in your life, it doesn’t mean that they will stop their demands for your time and attention around other matters.
Even if you don’t always yield to the demand, the effort required to turn away is effort taken from your change. The energy required to sift through the cacophony is energy down the drain.
Exhaustion, frustration, and lack of momentum are all likely results of a set of boundaries that is too loose.
When it comes to setting boundaries as you move into and through your change, the Goldilocks principle applies: not too hard, not too soft, you need to find the balance that is just right.
What this really means is that your boundaries will shift from time to time. There may be points along the way where you need to “go off the grid” in order to reflect, or write, or make tough decisions.
There may be people whose relationship to you needs to change (remember my blog Anchors, Aweigh); a significant part of shifting those relationships is the redefinition of the boundaries between you.
You may need to open the boundaries to people, and to ideas, that are foreign to you, but that are capable of informing your change if you let them in.
There is no science to setting boundaries during your change. But that doesn’t mean it should occur haphazardly. Think it through. Plan it. Test it. Adjust it. Fine tune it. Remain aware of your boundaries, of how they are supporting your change efforts, and how they are undermining you.
What have you learned about boundaries in your change journeys? Share your lessons with others.