Why boundaries make or break your personal brand

by | Mar 3, 2022 | Personal Brand, Professional Confidence, Women

Not long ago I was challenged by a social situation I was surprised to find myself in: I had invited some friends to dinner and although I had been very much looking forward to a relaxed evening, a quiet glass of wine and a laugh with friends… the evening didn’t go as planned and ended up not being much fun for me.

I was surprised because I consider myself a confident person with strong boundaries and expectations, and I was troubled by the possibility that some people potentially didn’t see me this way, judging by some behaviour on the night. It caused me to reflect deeply on what it was about my communication style that wasn’t translating this.

It caused me to reflect deeply on what it was about my communication style that wasn’t translating this… 

We can find ourselves in this kind of pickle in work contexts all the time. While assertiveness and self-assuredness in our careers tend to grow with age and experience, in my work with leaders and senior people I often find that there are areas where a felt inner confidence just doesn’t come across. Whether it’s asking for what we want, asserting our values and priorities, advocating for ourselves or changing the way a conversation is going… very talented, very capable and very confident people slip up all the time. Why? I’m no psychologist, but I think it’s partly because as human beings we want to get along, we want to connect, we want to make others happy. I also think it’s partly because we are rushed, busy, and don’t take enough time to step back and see the bigger picture of what it is we need to communicate.

How aligned are your actions and words with what you will and won’t stand for? What happens when you fail to communicate this?

In my own example above, I had to come to the troubling conclusion that although I have worked hard to empower myself in my business and working life, cultivating strong values, boundaries and communication styles… I had failed to do the same in some aspects of my personal friendships and social behaviours. I was more tolerant than I should have been; I failed to put my foot down early or take previous opportunities to provide feedback on what was and wasn’t ok with me.

“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop and what you reinforce.” – Tony Gaskins

When it comes to your personal brand, words are important, and so are actions. If you are building a brand you are building a voice, an approach, a point of view. You are asking people to trust in your confidence to achieve something. That means you have to clearly know what you are all about and you need to consistently communicate that – including what you will and won’t tolerate, what you will and won’t do, what you will and won’t prioritise. That’s why boundaries can make or break your personal brand.

If you are building a brand, you are building a voice…

I have learned that when I take time to reflect on my values and boundaries, I am in a much better position to communicate them, and to stick to them when tested. I had not previously taken time to set my personal expectations on social behaviours of others in my home, so I failed to make these clear in my actions and reactions – until I’d had enough! In work, however, I have spent much time reflecting and learning from my experiences to purposely build a framework in which I operate, and this helps clients and colleagues to understand what it is like to work with me – and choose to be part of that if they wish to.

Here is a test on how well you know your boundaries – can you easily answer these questions?

How do you:

  • Protect your time?
  • Signal what your work is worth?
  • Ensure your needs are met?
  • Set the tone and outcome of a conversation?
  • Control what you let in?
  • Manage your energy?

And these:

  • What are you saying ‘yes’ to that should be a ‘no’, ‘not now’ or ‘not this way’?
  • What haven’t you let go of, that you should have by now?

In my book The Powerful Personal Brand I talk about a turning point early in my first business when I felt completely overstretched by client demands and exhausted by a round-the-clock work routine I didn’t plan on. At breaking point, I had grabbed a notepad and pen and scribbled out my ‘Angry List’ – what I promised myself that I would and wouldn’t do from now on. It was a huge lightbulb moment for me that set the tone from that day forward, on how I teach people how to treat me in business. Whether you are a business owner or working in a team, this can be an empowering exercise… I encourage you to try it for yourself!