So I was really annoyed with the yard guy.

He was not cutting the grass near my hostas, so they were getting really weedy. Then the next week, he clearly tried to cut the grass, but shredded a bunch of hostas with the weed whacker in the process.

Again, I was NOT happy. I love my garden. I’m grateful for help with it, but not when stuff gets wrecked, you know.

But here’s the thing. It really wasn’t his fault. I am not paying him to get on his hands and knees to pick out grass from in between hostas like some kind of master gardener. This is a show-up and cut-the-grass-fast kind of deal. And this border, with a mix of quartz rocks, hostas, and the dang grass, was not clearly defined. It was really a no-win for him.

So I fixed the border. It’s now a very clear thick line of brick pavers with grass on one side and hosta on the other. NOW I can expect the grass to be cut and the hostas to survive intact. I did my part by setting a clear boundary and he can do his part by cutting what he’s being paid to cut and leaving the rest undamaged.

Do you see where this latest garden metaphor is going?

So many times we as communications professionals think we have set boundaries for our coworkers. We think we have been clear. But let’s be honest. Most of the time we’ve left a whole lot of wiggle room in there. It’s easy for others who don’t live and breathe out work to be confused about exactly what the boundary is and what will happen if it’s crossed.

We make it even worse because we might talk a big game (even in our own heads) about enforcing boundaries, but then someone crosses them, on purpose or accidentally. And then we cave, relent, work late, and accommodate the boundary crosser, because we just want to get the work done.

Then we feel like they are taking advantage of us. We think they don’t respect our boundaries or us when half the time, they really didn’t appreciate that the boundary existed in the first place or it’s moved so many times they aren’t actually sure where it is.

That’s on us.

Boundaries only work when they are unmistakably clear. Boundaries are either YES or NO; they are not MAYBE or I GUESS SO or OK, THIS ONE TIME.

It’s time to put your proverbial garden gloves on and rebuild your boundaries so everyone can see them, clear as day.

I’m doing another one of our Jump Starter courses on setting boundaries this Thursday. I’ll walk you through some of the types of boundaries you might need to set (or re-set!) and how to go about doing that.

You might also find these posts helpful:

Setting Boundaries So You Don’t Get Doormatted

Boundaries You Need to Be Productive

How Boundaries Can Motivate You (another garden metaphor!)