Another Lesson in Boundaries and Anger

May 3rd, 2012 by Laura Longley

Given the number of opportunities I’ve had recently, it seems this lesson is one I’m meant to learn well right now: when others become angry at a boundary I have set, it is not about me, but about them. My learning is to allow them to have their reaction and to not take it personally.

The most recent opportunity occurred yesterday with a potential client. I offer a free thirty minute consultation that is an opportunity for each of us to get to know more about one another and to decide if we feel like we would work well together. In the past I have experienced a number of people not showing up for these consultations, or canceling at the last minute.

I also have dealt with expectations of some people that this initial consultation was a free session, which it is not. The purpose truly is for both parties to get enough information to decide whether to move forward with counseling or coaching together. I have worked hard at communicating what potential clients can expect in this initial consultation, and that seems to be working well.

In order to address the no-show / late cancelation issue I implemented a questionnaire that I email to potential clients and that they must return at least 48 hours before their scheduled consultation. These questions keep the focus on the purpose of the consultation – identifying the work they want to do in counseling or coaching – and give me a preview of the issues the person is facing, as well as how much thought and attention they have given to these issues already and how they view the role of me as counselor or coach.

The questionnaire also gives me an indication of their level of commitment, primarily by whether they return it on time or not. This week I had four initial consultations scheduled. All but one returned the questionnaire by the deadline given. And that one exception is where my lesson lies.

When I send out the questionnaire to potential clients it is with an email that tells them that they must return it by a certain day and time or their appointment will be canceled. When several hours had passed since the questionnaire deadline for Mr. X (BTW, he had more than 48 hours in which to fill out and return the questionnaire that takes about 5 minutes to fill out) and I had received no communication from him, I canceled his appointment, which automatically sends an email to him.

I got an almost immediate response from him that said: “What? That’s just silly! What if I fill it out right now and send it to you?” Now, I’m not impossibly rigid with this rule, and if his response had been “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, it completely slipped my mind! What if I fill it out right now and send it to you?” I would have been inclined to say okay, go ahead.

But because he took no responsibility for missing the deadline and instead blamed me (“that’s just silly”) for enforcing a rule he had been made aware of (more than once), I knew already that this was not a client I wanted to work with, so there was no point in going through the charade of an initial consultation.

Before I could respond to his email, I received another from him that said: “…Since the link is working it seems like I should just click it again (to re-schedule his appointment)… So how about I just send the answers right now and we still meet on Friday?” In the … parts were excuses (still not taking responsibility) about why he didn’t return the questionnaire and some sarcastic remarks about “those time sensitive questions.” He included his answers to the questionnaire, and I also found that he had rescheduled his canceled appointment using my online scheduling system.

The contempt he felt for me was obvious in his email, and it was amazing to me that he would still want to meet with me given his reaction to me canceling his consultation. If I had any doubt about him as a client, this email confirmed that he was not a good fit for me. And frankly, I felt a little afraid of him, too.

I have learned in email interactions with my ex-husband that it is best to be brief and to the point in my responses, and that is how I chose to respond in this case. I responded by simply saying that I did not want to meet on Friday, and that regardless of whether he liked or agreed with my process, that it was the process I chose to follow.

I hoped that would be the end of it, but boy, was this guy persistent! I then received an email where he asked if I was denying him services, because based on what he had read online, and my videos that he had watched, he thought I would be a good fit for him! Again, I was shocked and flabbergasted that he would want to work with me given his anger and contempt at me canceling the consultation.

I was triggered by his phrase “denying services” because it implied a basic entitlement to my services regardless of my wishes. Again, I chose to respond simply and matter-of-factly by saying “I’m choosing not to offer you my services.” Oh boy! This unleashed an email from him full of attack, venom and veiled threat (I think I was right to be a little afraid of him).

This man is my ex-husband in the guise of a potential client. The lessons I’ve been learning with my ex-husband for the past 10 years about boundaries are being reinforced with this man. I want to scream, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” I feel unfairly attacked, accused, made wrong. I want to defend myself and attack him in return.

In the end I chose to do nothing. There was nothing to say or do. A lesson I’ve learned with my ex-husband is that he will never see his part in any disagreement, but only blame me. I believe that is also true with Mr. X. Besides, I don’t even know him. Why go to the effort of trying to correct his perception of me? I don’t have a good opinion of him, why do I care what his opinion is of me?

It’s okay for me to set boundaries and enforce them. In this case I did it with respect; I was not judgmental or punitive in my communication, simply factual. Mr. X’s immediate overreaction helps me to see that this is about him, not about me.

I am pleased with how I chose to respond. I feel that I was fair and not reactionary. Ultimately I would like to be able to not be as triggered internally, but I guess that’s what these experiences are all about, a kind of desensitization.

So bring on the experiences. Give me the practice that helps me be solid in setting and enforcing boundaries without judgment or blaming of the other person – or myself.


2 Responses

  1. Good for you for setting clear boundaries!
    It’s that cursed worm “guilt” that I have to be prepared for when I set boundaries. It used to be my reflexive response when I had to set a boundary with someone and they appeared angry or disappointed. Finally, I’ve made progress and no longer live a guilt-motivated-life.
    I decided it was okay for people to feel how ever they felt. It’s their choice.

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