Confident Boundaries

In our village, there lived a car mechanic called Don, who was also a friend. His workshop was in the next town and over time he had built a business of loyal customers who trusted him and came to him with all kinds of problems — like the time our daughter filled her petrol car with diesel and realised it on the motorway when it stalled…

When Don died, his funeral in the village church was packed. Don was very popular. One of the eulogies given that day told of a sign he had in the garage that I’d never noticed before. It read:

In effect, he was prepared to be flexible with his customers, but Don knew that he was not a miracle-worker. He was a genius at car repair and maintenance, but he would decline work if people expected too much of him.

Courage & Vulnerability

Facing the Fear of Losing Customers

What was behind this was the courage to face the fear of losing work, or of occasionally disappointing a customer who brought unrealistic expectations. His freedom lay in his courage to walk away from work if necessary.

How does that play out with the people we seek to serve?

If we convince ourselves that we have to please this particular boss or that key client, then we have moved from being a valuable partner to a powerless slave who is bound to disappoint. Sadly, this often works against us as the boss or client sees the poor quality of our work, and their value in us declines.

Dealing with the Difficult

Do you have a BATNA?

In my Dealing with the Difficult ebook, I reference the concept of BATNA: Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. We negotiate from strength when we don’t have to reach an agreement. Sometimes the best alternative is to walk away from the negotiating table.

When dealing with a client, new requirements can come up all the time. The power to say No is crucial in negotiating the best way forward. But it requires us to face our fears of disappointing that powerful boss or client.

It is often better to explain parameters of what you can do, before these requests come in, like lead times you need in order to provide something appropriate. No is sometimes saying, Your urgency is not my urgency. If you give me enough time, I can deliver what you want. If you don’t, I can’t.

Inner Boundaries First

Ordering Our Private World breeds Confidence first in Us and then in the Client

Ultimately, there are three stages to this:

  1. Clarifying our inner identity and our boundaries, before engaging with anyone. This prepares us to bring our best selves to work.
  2. Setting client expectations before we begin work. This makes sure there are no surprises.
  3. The moment of tension with a surprise shift in requirements and expectations from the client.

Stage 3 goes much better if we do 2 first. And by the same token, Stage 2 goes much better when we show up having done stage 1.

Most of us need to be more like my late friend, Don.

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