How to set boundaries and still keep friends

They're like a force field which protect our emotions and personal space. Here's how to set boundaries and manage your energy with the power of two magic words and some practise.

You know the 'I wish I knew how to set boundaries and still keep friends' moment. You got up early for a run, sorted out some home stuff and are five hours into your work day when a friend rings. Can you mind their two-year-old for three hours that night?

Depending on how good you are at setting boundaries, you’ll either feel obligated and say yes and schlep off to babysitting—annoyed with your friend for putting it on you and with yourself for caving when you just wanted an early night—or you’ll say “I’d love to, but another time.”

This is just an everyday example of one time you’ll wish you were better at setting boundaries. There will be times in business and relationships when you’ll really need to know how—here’s my three step strategy for nailing it.

Our personal boundaries are like invisible force fields that give a sense of control over our feelings, our bodies and our personal space We use them to let others around us know what is okay and what isn’t.

Boundaries are a way to manage your energy and protect you.

A lot of people reach a point of burn out because they say yes to everyone around them except themselves. It’s not their fault—most of us haven’t been taught much around this subject—but it’s important to learn so we can manage our energy to serve ourselves and everyone around us.


Clarify the two boundaries you are choosing or not choosing to set inside your life.

The first one is the conversational boundaries, which boils down to what you will or won’t talk about with someone else. Someone in the street asks you how much money you have in the bank, you don’t have to tell them. Your brother asks at a family barbecue what’s going on with your partner. You can say, “I don’t want to talk about that, let’s talk about something else.”

There’s this magical word: No.

When we start saying no the things that don’t serve us, we start creating space for the things that do. It’s an energy maintenance thing. If you’re having a conversation with someone and they’re zapping your energy, say, ‘I don’t want to get into this.’

That would be setting a boundary. You’re choosing how you manage your own sense of aliveness and wellness.

The second type of boundary is physical. Assuming there’s no COVID-19 protocols, someone might try to railroad you into a hug: “I’m a hugger.” They can knock themselves out (confession; I’m one of them) but if you’re not up for it, offer a handshake or a fist bump.

Boundaries are about working out what people including yourself need, then respecting that.


Second part is to create a list of all the boundaries you’re not seeing in your life. Could be your partner never wants the heater on and you do. You never say anything. Or your mother wants to talk on the phone for an hour every night and you’d prefer it to be once or twice a week.

Start with something small—this is called a cherry on top boundary—like maybe finally telling your friend you’d like to sometimes choose the music when you’re in the car together.


When you do set a boundary, celebrate yourself for changing the direction of your relationship with you, for asking more for what you want in life.

This is about not playing a small game. You are not designed to step back and placate everyone else.


One of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend

Matt Lavars life coaching
Matt LavarsThe Coaching Institute