Professional boundaries, like emotional boundaries, help us stay out of trouble and keep others from imposing on us.
They help us stay out of trouble because they reduce the temptation to do something we don’t quite approve of, like giving away our work for free or low pay. And they give us ways to say ‘no’ when others try to push us, or, even unknowingly, take advantage of us.
Boundaries are like fences
Boundaries are really what that old saying, good fences make good neighbors is all about. They set the necessary limits that helps us live our lives with grace and elegance.
My own professional boundaries include:
- No pay, no work.
- Low pay, no work.
- I don’t write after 4 pm.
- You can’t call me before 9 a.m. unless we have a special arrangement.
- No, I won’t be available to you by instant messenger.
- Yes, I check my email at least twice a day; No you can’t expect an instant response from me.
- You can only text me on my cell phone. This will be true until / unless I find a decent cell phone headset.
- I often turn off my phones so I have uninterrupted space to write. Leave a message.
- I won’t write for certain causes, or points of view, or anything I consider unethical – my choice entirely.
- I run my business on a pay as you go basis – as such, no refunds.
You get the idea. There’s nothing too radical in this list and most come from experience.
Enforcing your professional boundaries
It’s not only up to you to set your boundaries with your writing clients, but to enforce them as well.
Learning to say ‘no‘ is key. As the linked article points out, the word, all by itself, is a complete sentence. Said nicely but firmly is often the easiest way to refuse to do, or to accept something. I find it works best followed by silence. If they ask my why I’ll often tell them. But so often they just accept it – easy breezy.
Sometimes, less often than you think, more is needed. You may, for example, have come to a negotiation point. If someone offers, say $20 less per hour you have a choice. You can certainly say no, or, you may choose to offer to split the difference, and accept $10 less per hour.
Another approach is to tell them you need to think about what they offered, and promise to get back to them the next day. This does give you time to think it through and to consult with someone else if you like.
In terms of accepting phone calls, I truly appreciate an undisturbed morning. I also know that talking with certain clients earlier, sometimes much earlier, can be effective for both of us – so I leave that option open but by appointment only.
Professional boundaries sometimes mean you lose
Setting boundaries sometimes means you won’t get the gig. While it’s tempting to think of that as a loss, my own sense is that even though I thought I wanted it, I’m probably better off without it. That’s particularly true of low paid offers. Somehow it seems those who pay less expect more.
I know that my business doesn’t depend on any single client. Rather it’s the collection of clients over time that pays me amply and makes the writing game my favorite in terms of earning an income.
What’s been your experience with setting and enforcing boundaries? Tell us about it in comments if you like.
Want a call from me? Answer “Some very interesting questions” and I’ll call you with the results. No cost at all, I promise. We’ll chat a bit – it will be fun for both of us.
Write well and often,