How to Stay Non-Reactive and Set Healthy Boundaries in 5 Words or Less

Leadership is often like parenting when it’s necessary to draw lines and the lines aren’t always clear. Sometimes it can seem like steering on ice.

Just like a parent, it takes discernment to know when to:

  •       Draw a firm, tight line and demand a lot of your employee
  •       Give them a lot of rope and allow them to be “independent”

There are a variety of lines that you must draw:

  •       When to be sensitive and when to be firm
  •       When to give independence and when to take over and give structure.

They’re not easy decisions to make when you’re stressed, tired, and have a myriad of demands coming at you.

Instead of hoping for the best that your employee will immediately welcome boundaries about their behavior or performance, try the below three steps to stay non-reactive and set healthy boundaries.

  1.     Prepare in advance to stay calm and nonreactive

Making a pre-commitment to yourself to stay calm when setting boundaries is most often overlooked, yet makes a world of difference for you staying in control of your emotions and the conversation.

Whether it’s taking a few deep breaths, sitting in silence, or roleplaying the conversation in advance with a trusted colleague, prepare in advance to stay calm so you don’t join the reactivity of your employee.

  1.     Listen fully to understand your employee’s perspective

Listening fully without interrupting conveys you care and want to understand your employee’s point of view while you hold firm that what they want will not happen.

Strive to listen, even if you get triggered and are tempted to defend yourself so your employee senses your desire to maintain connection with them.  

  1.     Set the boundary in five words or less

In five words or less concisely set the boundary calmly and firmly. Here are some possible phrases :

  •       This behavior can’t go on
  •       I won’t let you do that
  •       It’s time to change
  •       This behavior isn’t okay  
  •       No

After setting the boundary, stay calm and nonreactive. The goal is to not overtalk so you focus on the boundary. 

The more you talk after setting the boundary, the more the employee has control. While you can  offer concise empathic statements such as “I know, this is hard”, be aware of avoiding further dialogue.

Limiting your words to five or less while staying calm and grounded conveys that you’re serious about the boundary.

While you can’t change how your employees behave or their performance, you can change your relationship by changing the dynamic within your relationship with clear boundaries.

Make setting boundaries in 5 words or less one of your productive conflict strategies and you will create experiences with your employees that increase the likelihood of improved behavior and performance.

Supporting your boundary setting,

P.S.  Staying non-reactive while setting boundaries is a game-changing leadership skill. Book a call to explore coaching options to enhance your leadership skills in 2023.


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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