Uncomfortable Confrontation vs. Boundaries


Photo source: www.linkedin.com, www.chicagotribune.com

*Recommended post: Professionalism


Confrontation is not a bad word, but it sure makes people UN-comfortable.

As BCBA's/therapists/ABA professionals, the need to confront an issue is pretty much a job requirement.
If you're a RBT, you may find yourself needing to confront your BCBA. If you're a BCBA, you may need to confront a parent of a client.

None of us are really exempt here, unless you are totally cool with people walking all over you. If that's fine with you, then I wish you the best of luck and you can stop reading now.


For the rest of us, part of being a professional will involve having to resolve conflict or disagreement with other people in a respectful way. As in, having to arrange a sit down meeting between THAT parent and the ABA team over issues that have been simmering for weeks. Yeah.....super not fun.

No one really told me pre-certification that a big part of my job would be conflict resolution, but it kind of is. On a regular basis. Not just when things completely fall apart, but longgg before they reach that point.

I've learned from experience that the way you approach resolution can either guarantee a disaster or help prevent one. Here's what I mean:

To confront, means to face up to or deal with a difficult situation or problem.

To establish and maintain boundaries, means to mark or designate a dividing line; to clearly set a limit.


Wow. Those definitions make things pretty clear. It's a far more effective use of your time, not to mention less stressful, to focus on communicating your boundaries, than to ping pong from one confrontation fire to the next.


So as a professional, how do you establish and maintain boundaries to avoid reaching a place where you now must confront someone? By thinking through the following:

Where do I draw the line as an individual professionally, both personally (unique personal preferences) and ethically?
Once I have decided on my "boundary lines", which of these will I die for? (translation: which boundaries are the most critical)
How am I doing at clearly informing people about my boundaries?
Do I let people know when they have crossed a boundary (follow up: Then how will they know??)?
When someone repeatedly crosses a boundary I have made clear, how do I resolve the issue calmly and quickly?
If someone repeatedly crosses my boundary, is the problem with my boundary? Is the problem with me? Or is the problem with them?

Over the years, I've had angry and tight-lipped confrontations with supervisors, employers, supervisees, and parents/caregivers of clients. I have also clearly explained my boundaries, and then quickly alerted someone when they crossed/stepped on one. I much prefer the latter.
Especially for an ongoing relationship, like a supervisor you work with across multiple cases, it's better to win the relationship than to win the argument.

Just to name a few examples, as an ABA professional it's important to define for yourself where your boundaries are regarding:


  • Types of clients you will serve
  • Schedule/Availability (desired work load)
  • Training/Learning preferences
  • Communication/Correction preferences (this one is a biggie)
  • Opportunities for promotion/raises/recognition
  • Multi-disciplinary collaboration
  • Dealing with uninvolved or resistant consumers/clients
  • Creating that work/life dividing line; Maintaining balance



Instead of spending energy on very impressively worded (we do love our jargon, don't we?) confrontations, choosing to have a respectful discussion about boundaries moves you closer to maintaining the relationship.
If people don't want to work with you, even if you won the argument you definitely lost the war.


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