Why should you set boundaries in your coaching practice?
One of the things that can really make a huge difference to your practice, is setting boundaries. And I don’t mean letting your client know what is, or isn’t acceptable from them. What I mean, is letting your client know what the result of them breaking your boundaries will be.
Now, obviously, when you’re setting boundaries, you need to present them from a place of love and respect. With an attitude that they are quite at liberty to do, say and act in any way they please during the sessions. But, that there will be a consequence from you if they act in a way that breaks your boundaries.
So, I suppose first we ought to discuss what a boundary actually is. Because this is one of the things that often gets misunderstood.
When a talk about a boundary, I’m referring to something that happens within my environment, that directly affects me.
A client shouting at me, because they don’t agree with what I’ve asked them to do, goes against my boundary. A client not doing the homework set, because they didn’t think it was appropriate, doesn’t. I’m not trying to tell the client how to act. Or what they can, or cannot do or say. I’m telling them that if they act in a way that goes against one of my boundaries, this is how I’ll act in response.
So, a boundary violation is when someone has crossed over what is appropriate, or safe for you in your personal and emotional space.
An example of breaking boundaries
Let’s say, your client is going through a particularly tough session and starts to get angry, for example. If you suddenly react in a way they’re not expecting, your coaching relationship could be soured. Or at least the rapport you’ve built up damaged in some way. If you’ve already given them a heads-up about what your likely reaction will be, they’ll be accepting of it. Once their rant is over, you’ll both be in a much better place to continue. Rapport and respect still in place.
So, remember that the idea isn’t to tell them how to behave. You shouldn’t say for example… “I won’t accept any sort of aggressive language during our sessions.” But, it’s quite okay to say… “I have to warn you that I don’t agree with the use of aggressive language during our sessions. And I’m afraid that if the content of our discussion becomes aggressive, then I will have to insist on a two-minute break before we restart.”
Saying something like this has two big benefits.
- You’ll find that in a lot of cases, the client will try extra hard not to speak aggressively. Even when they’re angry, or upset.
- If they do speak aggressively, you tell them that you’re going to take a two-minute break and they accept it! Because they knew it was going to happen.
Is setting boundaries a good idea?
Some people think that putting boundaries in place is restrictive for the client. I disagree. I believe that by laying the ground rules immediately, you present as an emotionally mature and professional coach.
There’s something else to consider as well if you don’t set boundaries and something happens that you don’t agree with. You might feel unable to deal with it properly, in case you upset them further.
And by doing that, you’re not only feeling upset, or resentful because this person has breached your boundary, but you’re unconsciously saying… “this is okay.” Even when it isn’t.
Please don’t see this as a way to manipulate the way your client behaves. They are completely free to act in any way they feel appropriate. But, you should make them aware of how you will react in response.
Setting clear and honest boundaries paves the way for a coaching relationship that’s free from any sort of resentment and misunderstanding.
Give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.