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In my world of one to one coaching and group facilitation, challenges are often about relationships. Conversations about boundaries come up a lot.

 “He is over the boundary, he asks for far too much, far too many times”

“She doesn’t seem to know or care she’s over the line. She asks a lot and never offers in return.”

In a relationship, professional or personal, feelings of reciprocity and a sense of equality can matter a lot.

In their absence, a relationship can feel one way. It can become a problem, breeding resentment and unhappiness. Sometimes we only spot when a colleague or customer is over the line, asking for too much and in our space after the event. It can then feel too late to say anything that might help.

We may need to behave in a different way.

Here are some thoughts for what could help:

  1. Start with awareness. Are you grumpy about this person? Do you avoid them? Can you sense the discomfort inside you?
  2. Be more precise. Think about what exactly makes you feel this way. Write it down. Tell another human being. Find a way of articulating what is wrong with the relationship with more precision.
  3. Reconsider the history. Are you being asked to give too much? Does this happen often? Has it crept up over time? Does the imbalance feel wrong inside your bones?
  4. Determine your approach. Brainstorm how you can mention it to the other person. Think about the outcomes you really want. Ask a trusted colleague or coach to help.
  5. Have the conversation. Pay attention to how you can broach the subject in a way which offers kindness and compassion for you both. However, do not soften the reality too much (this will allow avoidance and denial). Also make sure that it does not give you, and only you, the job of creating the solution.
  6. Notice your own growth. You cannot guarantee the outcome here; you can only take responsibility for your own behaviour. Notice the positives you feel from taking action. And if you give your feedback thoughtfully to the other person, the chances of a good outcome for both of you increase.

Having a colleague, customer or even supplier over the line can be draining and time consuming. It often results in more work and higher cost too. Learning to communicate when it’s not right for you is a muscle well worth finding and using. This is all work in progress for me too. Recent examples include:

  • deciding not to carry on working with an associate firm after they changed their terms and conditions with me,
  • saying to a potential client that I did not think I could meet their needs for a leadership qualification (it would not solve their real problem), and
  • not being able to stop someone talking too much in a recent Awayday where I was facilitator.

I was, and am, at different stages of the steps above with each of these examples. And that’s how it is in real life, work in progress.

How does it work for you? Let me know your stories too!

Gill How has a passion for Leadership Development, is a National Training Award Winner and a Master Executive Coach.  She loves to work with leaders, managers and professionals, to develop their awareness and skills, to enhance their work with their teams, their performance and results. If she can add value to your team, whether you are an L&D Director or a Leadership Development consultancy,and would like a conversation get in touch.


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Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results


  • Ruth Paris says:

    Hi Gill,
    Thanks for your newsletter; always interesting and one of the very few I actually take time to read 🙂
    Your family holiday this summer sounds amazing. Wishing you all a fabulous time and safe travels.
    All the best and hope our paths cross one of these days, seems ages!
    Ruth xx

    • Gill How says:

      Thank you Ruth! Yes, lunch and a visit to your allotment, let’s get it on track for the autumn! Gill x

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