How to set boundaries (like a boss)

One of the most savage defensive plays in the NBA is the blocked shot.

Better known as the rejection.

For the uninitiated, a player (on offense) will try to shoot the basketball.

And they wait for that swoosh.

Unfortunately, a defensive player is there to greet them.

And swat that sh** away from the basket.

The entire act is a beautiful mix of prowess, power and self-confidence.

Which is why a rejection is usually accompanied by some primal celebratory act.

And if you’re a product of the ’90s, it doesn’t get any better than Dikembe Mutombo’s finger wagging.

Rejected Atlanta Hawks GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The simple act of waving a finger would say:

My house. My rules.

As we navigate the uncertainty of changing economic headwinds, post-pandemic “normalcy” and the ever increasing competing demands on our time – one thing has become crystal clear.

People are exhausted.

And one of the biggest drivers is the head-on collision between a lets-hop-on-a-Zoom world and everyone-wants-to-hang-IRL world.

Which means you need Mutombo-like superpowers in setting boundaries.

With out them, you’ll die a thousand deaths courtesy of Zoom calls.

But if you’re a people-pleaser who fears rejection – setting boundaries can feel impossible.

Here’s a masterclass in setting boundaries with confidence and grace.

Let’s set the stage

I recently moderated an event with a guest speaker, whom we’ll call Pink.

An email exchange lead to the inevitable why not hop-on-a-Zoom to coordinate the logistics of the event.

After all, Zoom is so easy and frictionless. So why not?

But there were a few rubs.

First, the event was unpaid. Which makes the opportunity cost of a prep call quite high. Sure, everyone wants an event to go smoothly, but a speaker like Pink also needs to value and protect their time.

I’m often the speaker in that situation and I just cave. I feel bad. I want everyone to feel happy. And I’m conflict-avoidant.

And 99.9% of the time since I don’t speak up – I enter the prep call oozing with resentment.

So let’s look at Pink’s response:

This is a respectful “no” that sets firm boundaries. It lays out a foundational principle (I don’t do prep calls for free events) and gives a very valid response (I’ve got other more important priorities right now).

So simple. Yet so hard to do.

Offer a solution

But the email doesn’t stop there. Pink’s colleague goes on to reassure the moderator (me) and the organizer with a simple truth:

We got this. Trust us.

Once again, if you’ve done any public speaking, you know that fireside chats are quite low-touch. Public speakers – by definition – can turn it on and woo a crowd with stories, factoids and laughs.

It’s their job!

Here’s the reassurance in the same message:

Not to mention a little flattery (You got this, Khe) can go a long way.

Again, this reassurance tells the organizers that you have nothing to worry about. Which means a lot when you’re saying no.

Be firm

The next part of the email is where we see the Mutombo finger wave.

Again, with respect and grace, Pink says (paraphrase):

Now that we’ve established this – please remove me from the thread. I’m no longer necessary.

Once again, it’s respectful yet direct. And gives us the ability to say “ok” or not ok.

Why is this so hard

Being on the receiving end of this email, I said to myself:

Man, when will I have the chutzpah to write an email like this?

Analyzing my own 5 Whys, I’ve learned that I have some deep-seated fears.

I’m afraid of being perceived as a bad person.

Because if I’m bad, I’ll be rejected, unloveable and alone.

But at the same time, I frigging created $10K Work – and should understand leverage, boundaries and priorities.

$10K Work is fine and dandy. But it’s all in the head.

Those deeper fears – they live in the heart.

Which makes them act “irrationally.”

Yet, this email was a beautiful teachable moment. And it gave me a wonderful opening for self-reflection.

And about that event? Well, it was flawless.

Which we always knew it would be.

You may enjoy

For instant Access, Enter your Details Below:

🔒 Privacy Protected by our “Zero Spam” Policy

For instant Access, Enter your Details Below:

🔒 Privacy Protected by our “Zero Spam” Policy