MANAGING HEALTHY BOUNDARIES IN THE DETECT CHAIR
The Detect Chair invites us to do many things. We become more self-aware. We learn a new language, a language of empowerment in which we can confidently express our emotions and communicate our needs in an assertive way. We learn about the power of being vulnerable and the art of leading difficult conversations. We learn to step up into our full power.
Self-awareness is the most important building block for any personal growth and the only way to achieve self-awareness is through self-reflection. This means having the willingness to step back and take a good look at ourselves, which can be scary. It’s much easier to blame the rest of the world for our pain rather than take personal responsibility for it.
In the Detect Chair, we learn to reconnect with our emotions.
WHAT KIND OF BOUNDARIES ARE HEALTHY?
The word boundary can be positive or negative. There are the physical fences and walls that keep people out-they are meant to segregate. We have witnessed the negative effects throughout human history in infamous walls such as Hadrian ’s Wall in Scotland, The Berlin Wall in Germany, the Great Wall of China and even today with the discussion of creating a Border Wall across the southern boundary of the US to their neighbor Mexico. Personally, we can put up emotional walls, which cut us off from making real connections. On the positive side, we can set clear healthy boundaries that create strong happy relationships. These boundaries exist as a part of our emotional landscape. In the detect chair, we can manage these lines with clear language and positive behaviours that are good for personal as well as our professional lives.
LINES DRAWN IN THE SAND AT CLUB MED
I first encountered the concept of managing our boundaries on a course in England where I was training to be a Global Executive Coach. I hadn’t consciously explored personal boundaries until then. At that time I tended to be a people-pleaser, constantly trying to accommodate other people’s needs, often at my own expense. Not wanting ever to appear selfish, I would relegate my own personal needs to the back burner, time after time, and ended up with the crumbs. Saying ‘no’ to requests wasn’t part of my daily vocabulary. And anyway, how would I amass my performance points if I said no to others? People were happy to exploit my boundaries. They didn’t know I had any. I allowed my boundaries to be violated because I never declared them! That all changed with one episode.
Early on in my career, I decided to take a break from my overly busy training schedule and spend a two-month period in Sicily working as a G.O. (Gentile Organizzatrice) with Club Med. It was a great opportunity to brush up both my languages and entertaining skills. My job wasn’t overly taxing. I had to sell beads (the Club Med currency), look after the guests and be part of the entertainment team. My boss was a youngish French man. He was a veteran GO and Club Med was his whole world. He was gay and very entertaining. I liked him a lot. We got on well. Or so I thought.
It was the beginning of the season and the Club was doing auditions to allocate special roles to people for the season. As an experienced semi-professional jazz singer and drama graduate, I was chosen to do the poolside cocktail hour and was given some leading roles in the night time shows. I was delighted. Music and theatre are passions of mine. Three weeks into my contract I was doing well. I was attentive and popular with guests to a point where people were coming to me as their point of reference rather than my boss. No request was too much trouble for me. I was doing a good job. So I thought!
Then the problems started. I was victim to a series of acts of sabotage which culminated in losing my role as pool-side singer to my boss. (I hadn’t known at the time that he was also a singer.) My performances in the evening were also reduced and to top it all, one morning when I turned up for duty at the poolside, I opened my locker to discover that all my beads, worth €600, had disappeared. You can imagine what I felt on discovering this.
I turned to the bar where I knew I would find solace from the kind barman I had made friends with, only to find my boss and his right-hand woman leaning on the counter watching me with an expression across their smiling faces which read, ‘And now what?’ They were visibly reveling in my shock. The experience knocked me sideways. It was daylight conspiracy. Much later, I understood that my success as a G.O. in the club was a direct threat to my boss’s ego and this was meant as a strong warning to me. I was dumbfounded, devastated and incredulous. My boundaries had been seriously violated. I was at a loss as to what to do.
Should I roll up like a hedgehog and lie low? Should I Jackal away to myself and others about him behind the scenes? Should I confront him directly? This was my call. Life was offering me the chance to step up. My sense of worth and integrity was on the line. What now seems the obvious thing to do – to have a crucial conversation with him – was nowhere on my radar then. I was rotating through fight, flight, and freeze. So many confused and contradictory thoughts.
With hindsight, I realise it was a defining moment for me. Life often presents us with these. They are tests which reappear until we are ready to face them. I had a choice. I could call on my inner strength, set my boundaries and let them be known or give my power away, recoil and lay myself open to more violation.
My mind went on a rampage for forty-eight hours, in and out of Jackal and Self-doubt. I hadn’t yet created The 5 Chairs so I wasn’t aware of my own mind dynamics. I was just caught up in them! I felt angry, dejected, isolated, indignant, impotent, disillusioned. How dare he? How dare they? This is outrageous. Why me? Why are they picking on me? What’s wrong with me? How could I have failed? I thought we were friends. Did I really lose all the beads?
I was consumed by confusion, desperately seeking clarity and relief. I knew I had to defend my integrity but I was full of fear. I didn’t know where to start. The lesson I needed to learn was boundary setting. I needed a crucial conversation with my boss but I didn’t have any notion of how to conduct it.
Luck had it that I had made friends with an Italian bank manager on holiday at the club. He was a wonderfully approachable man and had years of leadership experience behind him, so I decided to confide in him. He masterfully coached me through the predicament and created a safe place in his presence where I could access my fears in a non-threatening way. The conversations I had with him had a profound impact on me. They were my first lessons in assertiveness. Still today in my workshops I refer to him affectionately as being an example of the tangible transformative power that supportive leadership can have.
Talking with him made me realise I had the right to set personal boundaries. We talked about what was acceptable for me and what was not and how it was my responsibility to communicate that directly and honestly to others. I learned that if we don’t establish our own boundaries, our sense of worth will be derived from other people. I began to realise that saying ‘no’ is more about protecting oneself rather than rejecting someone else and that a certain amount of selfishness is necessary in order to establish healthy boundaries. I later observed that those who have weak boundaries tend to violate the boundaries of others.
I summoned up my courage, approached the Head GO and asked if I could talk to him. Following the advice of my Italian friend, I expressed my concern about not finding the beads and that I had always been very careful and couldn’t imagine how they could have disappeared like that. I also asked if there was something I was doing which wasn’t meeting his expectations. He refrained from answering and just quizzed me about how I expected to replace the beads.
Despite my disappointment at the outcome of the conversation, I was happy to have confronted the situation head-on. I was learning a new life skill. The sabotage continued in subtle ways, like acid rain. It reached a point where I felt obliged to escalate it to the Club director. I described the bullying I was being subjected to, expressed my discomfort and disappointment, and expressed my intent to leave if it continued. On hearing this, he called a three-way meeting with myself and the Head GO. This was another crucial conversation. Things were aired but no conclusion was reached. Despite this, the Club director asked me to stay, which I did, but the trust had gone. The bullying stopped but my heart had hardened.
On my last day at the club, I was not asked to pay for the lost beads. My perpetrators backed down. They behaved as though it had never happened. I felt raw inside. Unpleasant as that whole experience felt, it taught me an invaluable lesson. When people cross the line, you owe it to yourself to speak up.
WHY SAYING ‘NO’ IS A GOOD THING WHEN IN THE DETECT CHAIR
The Detect Chair is not about taking control of others or pushing with our egos. It’s not about dumping emotions or subtly punishing others. It’s about positively asserting our needs and speaking our truth firmly, in a self-referential way and with respect for others. The Detect Chair is the cornerstone of conscious leadership.