Have you ever encountered situations where you want to really scream at someone for doing something, but you can’t…because you didn’t assert yourself well enough from the start? Because they never knew about your ‘Hard Rules’? And then right after your rage within, you get the somewhat sad (but true) feeling that it was your own responsibility to have set your boundaries right from the start?
About a month ago, a friend spilt some red, hot and super oily curry on the backseat of my car. Now if you own a car, you know how hard it is to get rid of stains caused by curry. It’s a nightmare. The oil is almost impossible to wash off, and you know the seat will never look the same.
All of which could have been avoided if I had been assertive enough to insist that the packed food be kept in the car boot (which I didn’t, although it went through my mind). My friend offered to pay for the cleaning, which I deeply appreciated, but I refused.
This incident had more to do with me than anyone else. I had to take ownership even if it sucked.
And this is not an isolated incident. There are many more of such incidents when I knew what I wanted, but at the fear of inconveniencing friends/colleagues, I remained silent. I ignored that silent voice of reason that reminded me of what I wanted deep down inside. And after such incidents, I have no one but myself to blame.
Trust me, it is so much easier and so much more appealing to blame it on the other person and hold them responsible for the event. Except, such situations will keep repeating themselves over and over until we begin to change ourselves.
Right after that painful incident, I did some reflections and realised one thing. I didn’t have any hard rules to organise my life. At least, I didn’t communicate them openly.
1) A hard rule is simply a rule that cannot be crossed without consequence.
2) The alternative is the soft rule, which is also a rule but we are willing to close an eye and be more forgiving if it is crossed.
Where do you have hard and soft rules in your life?
After some deep reflections, I realised I needed to set some hard rules for myself and communicate it clearly to those people who needed to know it the most: My family and friends.
Some examples include:
Hard Rule: It’s not okay to eat in the car because 1) you may drop food crumbs that draw insects, 2) it’s not hygienic, and 3)you may spill and stain the seats accidentally.
Soft Rule: Drinking water in the car is still fine.
Hard Rule: It’s not okay to come later than 15 minutes after meeting time has been scheduled. If you are delayed, I expect to be informed beforehand instead of having me wait and wonder what happened to you.
Soft Rule: 10-15mins late is understandable. Any more than that comes with consequences.
Hard Rule: It’s not okay to take my iPhone wire and not return it after using it.
Soft Rule: It’s okay to take my iPhone wire without consulting me as long as you return it before the end of the day
The advantage of having these rules and communicating them clearly are plenty.
1) People know your boundaries and where to draw the line and they also help to enforce it
2) They also let you know of their hard and soft rules which make it easier for both parties
3) Life becomes less complicated and much more smooth flowing because the people you work with and hang around with know you and your rules.
There is a caveat to the hard rules you make in your life: You have to enforce them.
If you fail to enforce your hard rules, people immediately take it as a soft rule. They will walk all over you. The behaviour repeats itself continuously or gets worse until you speak up about it.
Fact: People can’t read your mind and tell if they’re doing something you’re unhappy about. It is entirely your responsibility to speak up about what makes you uncomfortable.
Now, if you’re going to enforce some hard rules with friends or family, expect a little bit of tease and expect them to poke fun at you. They are doing this to ‘test water’ and check if you really mean those rules that you set out.
In such cases of friendly bullying, you can use this format to assert yourself
“When you _________( insert behaviour ), I feel ________ (insert feeling) because _________ (insert reasons)”. I hope I’m not asking for too much (insert for soft landing).
“When you eat in the car, I feel quite frustrated because it attracts insects and makes the car unhygienic and I have to clean up the car after you – which is not the best use of my time. I would really, really appreciate it if you could eat your snacks later or when we are outside. I hope I’m not asking for too much”.
Hard rules can be used to establish better, working relationships, better relationships with your spouse/partner and better relationships with your friends & family.
What hard rules and soft rules do you have in your life? Do you know them and do your loved ones around you, know them as well? If not, ask them and find out!
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts. Did I miss out on anything? I’m also learning to become a better communicator and leader every day