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Why you never enforce boundary threatening to end the relationship

The title is to simplify, and the general rule is:

You never enforce personal boundaries through your biggest weapon/leverage.

Why not?
Not only because it often destroys social capital and ruins the relationship, but also because it's weak.

Let's see an example:

Example: boss threatens firing

I had a coaching call yesterday.

And my (very cool) client had hired a friend as an employee.

This employee struggled to accept that he was not an equal at work and "rebelled" by being a bit too disrespectful on text.

If I recall correctly, it went something like this:

My client called him up (great), told him that was not cool (great), that he did not accept the tone (great), and that if he cared about his job...

That last part was the threatening of the relationship through his biggest leverage.

That immediately sounded not ideal to me.
On the spot, I told the client that it's not a good idea to threaten the employment status for a simple "boundary drawing" of single instances (different if it's a trend, but then you need to build up to the final stage, not straight to the last stage).
I said that it's the equivalent of threatening to break up in relationships and it's not good because it's often too much, and because destroys the relationship if you end up staying together -which is what most often happens anyway, and we have an article on that-.


It's also a bad idea because it feels very weak to me, but I had to reflect on it to understand why.

Let's see why it's also weak:

It's weak because you wouldn't need to go for the biggest gun available if you trusted yourself to be able to enforce boundaries based on your skills and your ability to command respect (ie.: "who you are").

To clarify concepts, sometimes an overly exaggerated example is useful.

So let's use one:

Adults are supposed to be able to handle smaller problems without getting the big guns

Imagine 6-year-old you.

Your mom told you "no chips before dinner", but she catches you eating chips.

Instead of reminding you of the agreement, or telling you to "put that down", she yells that "she can't take it anymore" and... Goes into the other room to get a gun to make you stop.

What would one think?
That she's a total wacko, of course.
But also... Very weak.
Not only she lost all her patience for a minor infraction, but also... "isn't she able to talk to her kid, or if worse comes to worse, to take that bag of chips and throw it away"?

It's because we expect that any adult should automatically have the confidence and the means to deal with their child.

So when you move too quickly to use your most powerful tool you sub-communicate that you don't trust all the other "in-between" tools that effective and competent adults should be able to use -ie.: dialogue, negotiation, assertiveness, disappointment at current behavior (judge move), warnings, or even simple verbal expressions of anger-.

It's the same reason why higher power and status kids think it's "weak" when another kid runs to his mother instead of confronting the social challenges himself.
Going to mom is the biggest gun he has, and may work... But he's gonna lose all respect from all the other kids.

So, in order not to be that kid who runs to mom, you also never want to jump too quickly to your biggest weapon.

If you have that bigger gun: great, it's good to have.

But keep it sheathed and only use it strategically and when it's truly needed.

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Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanMats GBelPower Duck
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The more you threaten to use your biggest weapon without using, the more you destroy your personal power

This is also an important rule.

As an example, take an international situation:

The North Korean dictators.
The previous one threatened war so often that when he warned to evacuate South Korean international embassies many international embassies replied "yeah, no thanks, we good" because they didn't even perceive him as a threat -or as someone to be taken seriously-.

In the same vein, I think Putin may have threatened nuclear war a bit too often and for that he lost a lot of reputation -and even power- internationally.

The general rule:

The more you call on your biggest weapon without using, the more you lose power.

This of course doesn't mean "never use your biggest lever".

It also applies to interpersonal relationships, of course (in PU there is a good example of when it was fair to use it, relationships module).

But it means: limit the use of your main leverage to very special and important situations.

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and 6 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanJackMats GBelRobertoDGX37Power Duck
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