Everyday Compassion: Healthy Boundary Setting

Our housecleaner comes every other Friday at 1 PM. We love her; she is a personal friend and she does a great job. In two hours she has the whole house clean and sparkling.

Last week she asked to come on Wednesday, and we agreed. Since she does not want us home when she works, we both rearranged our schedules so that we’d be out of the house.

Then our housecleaner asked to come on Thursday. This involved a second change to our schedule, and we were unable to do that. Instead, we gave her a few options that worked for us, and we asked her to choose what worked best for her.

When she came to work, she expressed her upset that we didn’t accommodate her schedule. She reminded us that in addition to working as our housecleaner, she was also our friend, and she gave examples of things she had done for us. She was so disappointed that we did not find a way to accommodate her that she had considered quitting.

One might think that this would be a fine time to remind our housecleaner that she works for us, not vice versa, that we had already made one change, and that if she wants to quit because we couldn’t make a second change she is certainly welcome to do so.

On the other hand, she is an excellent housecleaner and she is a friend. And above all, when one lives a “Communicating with Compassion lifestyle”, one prefers not to tell another person “my way or the highway”.

Do the skills of Communicating with Compassion offer a better choice? As one might imagine, they do.

The first thing, of course, is to listen. We didn’t interrupt our housecleaner as she spoke. And the first thing I told her when I responded is that we indeed consider her a friend. I also mentioned many examples of things she had done for us.

Then I said that while we do our best to accommodate her, it was not possible this time. We had rearranged our schedules after her first request; we could not rearrange them a second time. So we did the best we could do: we gave three choices and let choose the one that best suited her.

She then brought up that every week she finishes her earlier job at 11 in the morning and has two hours of ‘dead time’ waiting to be at our home at 1:00. I was pleased she communicated her concerns to us, and I told her that going forward we are happy for her to come earlier.

The reason she felt comfortable bringing this point up is that we had responded graciously to her earlier complaint.

Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that compassion (and “love your neighbor”) means accommodating others even when it means compromising ourselves. That is not what I would consider a “Communicating with Compassion lifestyle”. Compromising ourselves for others leads to resentment and thus to undermining relationships. Healthy boundaries are part of being compassionate. One does what one can to accommodate others, and then sets healthy boundaries so as to not compromise oneself.