Setting & Enforcing Communication Boundaries

Setting & Enforcing Communication Boundaries

October 1, 2014 by

Do you ever wonder why planning ahead is so hard? Church communicators spend hours diving into details, striving to keep everyone informed and everything moving forward.

We keep one eye on what’s coming while juggling what is needed right now. Yet, just when we think we’ve got it covered, up springs a last minute surprise—a detour we didn’t expect.

Facing Detours

Have you ever faced one of those detour moments and found yourself wrapped up in giving more time than you had anticipated, or going in an entirely different direction?

True, not all detours are bad. Sometimes we miss something really important, and a detour is exactly what we needed to prevent us from going over the cliff.  I can think of several occasions when I was grateful for a well-spoken insight that saved me from a catastrophe.

But there are also detours that waste time and slow progress. Maybe you have faced one of these detours:

  • A plan is created. The plan is communicated. Then someone chooses to ignore the plan and do what they want instead.
  • Guidelines are set. Then someone expects you to accommodate a request beyond the established guidelines. Their need is regularly an exception to the rule.
  • A request is made. Its timeline is very short due to poor planning. You are expected to drop everything and make it happen—no matter what it costs you.

An Example of a Harmful Detour

Maybe this scenario can illustrate more clearly a wasteful detour:

Everyone on the staff understands that the communication plan allows for up to two verbal announcements during a weekend service. But a last-minute request for a third verbal announcement is received from a minister.

You deliver the unfortunate news that their verbal announcement was not approved since two other requests have already been submitted.

The announcements have been scheduled, scripted and provided to the person who is to give them at the end of the service. It just so happens this person is the same one who was turned down for the third announcement.

So instead of sticking to the two announcements, he proceeds to add his announcement anyway. He believes his position as a minister affords him the right to add whatever he thinks is important.

Maybe you have experienced a situation like that. Sure, this detour may not have taken more than a minute to share and some may argue that it really isn’t that big of a deal.

Why Boundaries Are Important

“Ignoring a boundary undermines the effort other ministries put into planning ahead.”

Some people believe a director shouldn’t be allowed to tell a pastor “no” (OK, that’s absurd!). Yet, I contend that allowing any staff member to ignore a boundary is very costly for several reasons.

  • Ignoring the boundary communicates loud and clear to the entire staff, “I can get away with not following the guidelines because no one is going to stop me.”
  • Ignoring a boundary sets a precedent for others to ignore them, too. Others begin thinking, “If he doesn’t have to follow boundaries, then I shouldn’t have to either.”
  • Ignoring a boundary undermines the effort other ministries put into planning ahead and sends the message that last minute preparation is acceptable.

When staff members willfully take matters into their own hands and refuse to accept a decision for good reason, they diminish the contribution of the entire staff, not just the communication team.

Senior leaders and supervisors of communication directors need to understand that these actions communicate a hurtful message:

I will do what I want and there is nothing you can do about it. The guidelines are for others, not me. I don’t value what you are contributing to the team.

I don’t believe this is message they intend to send; but it’s heard loud and clear.

How Can We Enforce Boundaries?

Maybe you’ve been tempted, like I have, to even the score by hiding a banana peel in the offender’s office to feed those pesky gnats (rub hands and smirk gleefully). Then again, that probably never crossed your mind. That’s good, because we all know that relationships never improve when we focus on revenge.

Real improvement comes when we approach these situations with humility and a willingness to take on tough conversations with a kind approach. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.  Demanding compliance or nursing our wounds leads us to full-blown resentment.

Neither will bring the outcome we desire. How we handle wasteful detours significantly influences how effective we’ll be at preventing them in the future.

Don’t Shrink Back

We should not look the other way as if to pretend a wasteful detour didn’t happen. We are entrusted with this role to help bring clarity and communicate effectively.

That sometimes requires calling out behavior that wastes time and effort. It isn’t comfortable placing a spotlight on failures, but if we truly care about what we have been entrusted with, then we must not shrink back.

Instead, we must make every effort to do what we can to prevent it from happening again.

1. Proceed With Caution

“Having decision authority requires holding people accountable to accept and follow through with your decision.”

Conversations of this type should be handled with great care. Handling them well depends on how much authority you’ve been given.

If you serve on a staff where directors are not allowed to tell a pastor no, then your strategy to address a wasteful detour will require working through your supervisor. A communication director in this culture has been given mere input authority and functions more as a coordinator or project manager than a director.

Be warned. You will probably lose big if you attempt to confront a ministry leader when you have not been given the authority to do so. Save yourself from added frustration and heartache by turning to your supervisor for assistance in managing the conversation.

Remember, if you have not been given the authority, then it is not your burden to carry—it is your supervisor’s burden to carry. Lean into them for direction on how they would like it handled.

If you are given decision authority, remember that you carry a great responsibility. Use it wisely. Having decision authority requires holding people accountable to accept and follow through with your decision. When they don’t, you’re obligated to take on that tough conversation and find out why.

I’m not sure who shared this nugget with me, but I believe it’s true: “He who angers you controls you.” If we angrily dive into a tough conversation, the Spirit of God is not in control. Instead, you’ve given control to the person who angered you, which means you’ve lost control. This is a precarious place to be and quickly increases tension.

2. Demonstrate Care Through Tough Conversations

“Our approach in every difficult conversation must be tender-hearted, no matter how tough-minded we want to be.”

People need to know you care about them even when tough conversations are needed. You demonstrate how much you care by choosing wisely when to confront and the tone you use.

Never address a failure publicly, no matter how frustrated you are. Raising your voice is out of the question. Take time to cool down before you take on a tough conversation.

Our approach in every difficult conversation must be tender-hearted, no matter how tough-minded we want to be.

Before you take on that conversation, start by praying for them and for wisdom. Put yourself in their position and assume there may be more to the situation than you understand. There may not be, but try to understand where they are coming from before jumping to conclusions.

When we take the time to enforce a boundary in a caring manner, it is far more likely we will see those we work with make better decisions and avoid creating a wasteful detour.

Photo by Ryan McGuire.
Post By:

Gerry True

Gerry True serves as the communication arts pastor at Oak Hills Church where he currently leads four teams of artists who use their creativity in communication, production, worship and technical arts. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his beautiful wife Karen and two delightful leaders-in-the-making kids, and you can follow him on Twitter at @GerryTrue.
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