We talk a lot about setting and maintaining boundaries. I have written a lot about these topics, especially as I have been learning how to set boundaries. But rarely do I hear or read anything about hearing and honoring other people’s boundaries.
Communication is an art. We communicate more through our tone and body language, than the words we speak. While I prefer written communication, because I can reread sections as needed, it is very easy to misunderstand what someone is saying because we cannot see or hear them. We must also remember that we filter communication through a series of lenses, and then interpret the filtered message. Needless to say, it is far easier to misunderstand someone than to understand them.
I struggle at times to understand social cues. And with my ADHD, I can miss a lot of nuances in conversations. I have a few tricks to help me stay focused, but in all honesty, the skill that helps the most is being open to asking clarifying questions.
By reflecting what I heard and understood and asking clarifying questions, I am able to hear what the person is saying and understand their boundaries. One of the best questions I ask my daughter when she is venting is, “Do you want me to listen or to solve?” This single question allows me to understand what she wants and needs while signaling to her that her needs are important to me.
I would be lying if I said that understanding what a person’s boundaries are is easy. No matter how well we know someone, we haven’t walked in their shoes, and we simply don’t know their boundaries. Normalizing conversations around boundaries and clarifying questions will result in healthy interactions. I have long said the best gift we can give to anyone is to truly hear them and do our best to meet their needs. So often in life we feel unseen or unheard, sometimes even unappreciated. Honoring a person’s boundaries, asking questions, and working to hear their answers will let that person know how much you care.
Actions always speak louder than words. Choosing to take action to hear, understand, and meet a person’s needs are the healthiest investments you can make in any relationship- even people you just met and/or will never meet again. The power of being heard can change a person’s life.
As you move through this week, make it a point to hear people and honor their boundaries. Note the difference in the interaction and how you feel after. I suspect you will feel good. Just remember that while you strive to honor other people’s boundaries, never compromise your own.
Sara Orellana lives in Oklahoma City and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.