Setting your boundaries and sticking to them is an important way to empower yourself.
Sarah was a self-employed business coach and, although she had been looking forward to working freelance, she was beginning to feel stressed and anxious because one of her clients kept calling at very short notice to change their appointment time.
They always claimed some emergency or other, despite repeated reminders that 3 working days’ notice was required. The situation was making Sarah feel frustrated and resentful.
Sarah admitted that she was afraid to confront her client because she needed the business and was worried they might just walk away if she took a stand.To lighten up the mood, I asked her, “Have you heard this definition of insanity? It’s when you do the same things again and again expecting different results.”
“Hahaha,” she grumbled. “Very funny. I just don’t know what else to do!”
I then asked her, “What did you say to your client when she cancelled last time?”
“I told her this was the second time this month and it just wasn’t on”, said Sarah
“And what else did you say to her?” I asked.
“That’s it! What else could I have said?”
“There are a number of issues”, I explained. “What do your terms of business say about giving notice to change an appointment?”
“It clearly states I need three working days. Less than that and the fee is payable.”
“And are you enforcing it?”
Sarah looked uncomfortable. “Well, not really. This client is under considerable stress at the moment and I didn’t want to pressure her.”
“In your role as a coach”, I told her, “it’s important to have clear boundaries. If you allow your client, or anybody else for that matter, to cross the line without challenging them, they will continue to cross the line.”
“But what can I do? If I get tough she will probably walk away and I really need the money!” she admitted. “I’m scared that if I’m inflexible, people won’t want to work with me.”
I could see she was feeling vulnerable but I needed to make my next point clear.
“People take you at your own valuation. If you don’t value yourself enough to stop unacceptable behaviour then they will continue to act in a thoughtless manner. This damages both your professional standing as well as your business. Once an appointment is booked, you can’t take on another client at that time, so you are losing income. But it is also bad for the client because your work together requires you to embody the values you bring to the coaching relationship. It doesn’t serve her or you if you retreat from taking a stand.”
“So what can I do about it?” she asked.
I smiled and said, “That’s your homework. Reflect on that question and we’ll discuss it next time.”
Valuing your own boundaries
When Sarah arrived at our next session I asked her, “So, what conclusions have you come to?”
She said, “I actually realised I was acting out of fear and I also got it that people can tell when you’re feeling unsure of yourself. Often they will take advantage. And I don’t want to work like this anymore. My business means too much to me.”
She added, “I already have a contract. I even have a clause that states I need 3 working days’ notice of cancellation. Any less will result in the fee being payable in full. What I need to do is remind her, and me, about this clause and explain why it’s there. But the biggest shift came when I realised that if she doesn’t want to work with me on that basis, it’s OK for her to leave. I want to work with clients who are committed to the process! I feel so relieved!”
I smiled. “Well done!” I said. “I know it can be scary to stand up for yourself, especially when you’re not used to doing it.”
About 2 months later, Sarah’s client tried again to cancel at short notice but, this time, Sarah stood firm. That was a turning point, especially since her client has not walked away and the crises appeared to have fizzled out.
Her new-found confidence around affirming her personal boundaries enabled her to extend this insight to her personal relationships, including her relationship with her partner. This led to a significant improvement in the way they engaged with each other.
I was delighted to see that since Sarah started taking responsibility for the quality of her business and personal relationships, the overall quality of her life has changed beyond recognition.