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  • Writer's pictureDevin Lee

Bad Boundaries: Who is to blame?

We are constantly complaining about clients with bad boundaries.

I see it in all of my business Facebook groups

I hear it in my business circles

I've done it myself!

  • "Can you believe that my client asked for THIS?"

  • "This client is making me do all of this unnecessary extra work!"

  • "My client is all over the place - she uses all different forms of communication and even texts me!"

  • "My client is taking FOREVER to respond - the project is going on forever!"

Today, I am here to argue for our client's innocence!

In one of my favorite interviews with our queen Brene Brown, she spoke about two things that I still think about often.

The first is this:

Her team studied the most compassionate people all around the world. Teachers, missionaries, monks. They were seeking the one thing they all had in common and I was surprised when I hear what it was: BOUNDARIES OF STEEL.

This completely floored me. I was actually shocked. I hit rewind on the podcast several times just to hear her say the words again. BOUNDARIES OF STEEL. This is totally counterintuitive and made me reevaluate how I interact with others.

I started reevaluating my work and personal life, and I asked myself: am I setting enough boundaries????

The second is this:

Brene shared something she had learned studying early development. When you have a very young child, guess how many times you need to backslide before they realize they can get away with things?




It takes ONE time before a child realizes - hey! Mom will backslide if I push hard enough! Yippee!

Now, I don't mean to compare our clients or any adults to a toddler. However, I worked with children for several years before starting my own business and I was fascinated by the fact that my adult drama very closely mirrored the social drama in my classroom. We are, in fact, just grown-up children!

So I think this sentiment applies. It takes ONE time for you to backslide on your boundaries with your client before they think they can ask you for anything - and that is on YOU, not THEM.

But listen, I get it! We want to give give give to our clients. We want them to have the world. We want them to like us. We want them to think we are superheroes who can fulfill their every desire. But the truth is, we all have different capacities and boundaries. We all have different ways that we feel safe and good.

Our clients are not greedy monsters. Clients treat you how YOU teach them to treat you. They have no idea what your boundaries are unless YOU tell them.

And I want to be clear - I'm not saying you should throw customer service out the window and run your business with rigidity. I'm saying you should demonstrate good boundaries while you are building trust with someone.

I have one client that is a rockstar when it comes to boundaries. She proactively checks in on my boundaries and, to be honest, she almost overly respects them. The trust we have built over the years working together is such a strong bond that I feel VERY comfortable bending my boundaries with her. There have been times where she has paid me late. There have been times when she needed me outside of my working hours. And I am happy to oblige. The trust we have built is so deep and so strong, I don't think twice because I trust her enough to know that those things don't happen lightly.

So let's revisit some of those comments from earlier (that I, myself have been guilty of making)...

"Can you believe that my client asked for THIS?"

Did you set expectations clearly at the beginning of the project?

Your client has the right to ask you for the moon. You have the right to say NO. They hired you because YOU are the expert. They don't know what is standard or what the boundaries should be. If they are consistently asking you for things way out of scope or don't get the message when you state your boundaries, you can choose not to work with them.

"This client is making me do all of this unnecessary extra work!"

Again - are you continuing to set expectations? If you didn't agree to certain work or hours, you have the right to say no. Your client cannot read your mind. They won't always intuitively know what your capacity is.

"My client is all over the place - she uses all different forms of communication and even texts me!"

Did you clearly explain your means of communication at the beginning of the project? Are you responding to all the different forms of communication? Have you emphasized the appropriate place for them to submit ideas or issues? Have you had a chat with them about why it is important to choose one form of communication and stick to it?

"My client is taking FOREVER to respond - the project is going on forever!"

Did your client have an idea of what the timeline was meant to be before the project began? Have you set deadlines with your client? Are there expiration dates in your contract? Are there financial penalties built-in? Have you talked with your client about how their pace is affecting the timeline?

Communicating expectations and boundaries with your client before beginning work and throughout your working relationship is YOUR job. Don't leave your clients guessing!


Are you looking to elevate your client experience? Click here to learn about how a stellar client experience can separate you from others in your industry and position you as a premium provider.

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