Do you have a flaky friend who is constantly re-scheduling a coffee date? Or a pal that seems to avoid making plans in the first place? Do you start finding yourself feeling bitter towards these people, or even talking smack about them to others because this hurts your feelings? In many of these instances, the outcome is not desirable. Maybe the smack-talkin’ gets back to the “disser” (person doing the dissing), or the “dissee” (person getting dissed) ends the relationship abruptly and (seemingly) for no good reason. Avoid writing off a friend that you truly care for, until you’ve tried setting a boundary first. The outcome may surprise you.
I’m finding the phenomenon of “flaky friends” is becoming more and more common, as our lives get busier, technology overwhelms us, work gets more demanding and we try to dissect this whacked concept of work/life balance. (Which by the way, I’m convinced is a total farce). Something’s gotta give. Especially for women, it can be hard to set clear boundaries about our expectations and desires in both personal and business relationships. I believe that many of us lack the basic skill of boundary setting, which leaves us feeling bitter and powerless. And it’s not surprising so many of us lack this skill, because for most people, we’ve never been taught to use clear communication! In many cases, we’ve been encouraged to do just the opposite.
Here are some tips on how to use verbal boundaries. Ideally these boundaries are set in person or over the phone, but they can be written as well. Just be VERY careful about the written boundaries, because without the tone or inflection of voice, words can be misinterpreted quite easily.
- #1: Have empathy. I believe most people want to do the right thing. Especially if this is a true friend, they don’t want to hurt you. Chances are they are totally overwhelmed, and they cancel on your because you’re the most likely person to forgive them.
- #2: Feel flattered. In many cases, people cancel or postpone because they want to give you QUALITY and undivided attention. Unfortunately in these busy times, finding that kind of time is rare, which leads to an endless string of postponements.
- #3: Be direct, yet compassionate. When it’s time to set a boundary, keep it short, sweet and direct. Express your feelings and appreciation and move on. But also have compassion for their busy situation. This compassion will surely be reflected right back at you.
- #4: Don’t guilt and use “I” statements. Using guilt to get anything is not only manipulative, there is no long term benefit for anyone. They may begrudgingly agree to your wants in the short term, but may also start to resent you. Using “I” statements instead of “You” accusations creates a non-threatening tone for the conversation.
- #5: Make lighthearted suggestions, not demands. People are very receptive to ideas when they are presented as something to think about, or as a reasonable change of course. Ultimatums don’t work among friends, because they are forced. And just because you’re setting a boundary doesn’t mean you have to be all scary and intense. Be able to laugh at your mutual inability to spend a little time together. Life can be ridiculous…and laughing at “life” takes away any feelings of blaming the other person. (Even if it’s blatantly their fault…you’re gonna need to let it go if the goal is to salvage the friendship.)
Example Conversation: Good friend keeps postponing that long overdue martini to catch up on life. Maybe you say…
“I know how busy you are. Frankly I don’t know how you have time to do it all! That said, every time we set a date and it gets cancelled at the last minute, it’s not a good use of everyone’s time. So I have an idea…let’s make a pact to be realistic with our time, and only schedule dates that we’re going to stick to, even if the house is burning down. Realistically, maybe that’s just once a year, but I’d rather our face time be less frequent if it means we both can really count on it. You are a person I truly want to spend time with, and life is too short to miss out on laughs with good friends! How does that sound to you? <THEY AGREE, IT SOUNDS GOOD> Oh, that works for you? Great! Well let’s look at our calendars and figure out a time to make this godforsaken martini happen already!” *laugh*
Try this with someone in your life – I’d love to hear your comments on how it went. Obviously there may be a million other reasons why someone might keep postponing on you, but this strategy usually works if the person is purely busy and disorganized. If they are actively trying to avoid you for some reason, that’s a whole other blog post. It also might be handled differently in a professional setting. That topic is coming soon. Running a company of 20 people (nearly all of them female) I think I have some good insights to share!