What comes to mind when you hear the term “rules of engagement”?  Do you think in terms of military combat?  Does something in the sales and marketing realm come to mind?  Have you heard the term used regarding relationships?  Or do you think of “rules of engagement” in terms of leadership?

When you look up the term “rules of engagement,” it says, “Rules of engagement (ROE) are the internal rules or directives afforded military forces (including individuals) that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied.”  It goes on to say that rules of engagement do not normally dictate how a result is to be achieved but will indicate what measures may be unacceptable.

That last part is interesting – it’s not directing the actions to be taken by the military forces; it’s indicating the actions that cannot be taken.  In other words, we’re not going to tell you the possible actions you can take to achieve a desired result, but we will tell you the actions you may not take.

Other than the military use of the term “rules of engagement,” this term has become popular in many different areas, especially when it comes to running a business, in the realm of leadership, and in managing personal relationships.  Depending on the context, the rules of engagement are typically codes of conduct created to get everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal.

For example, business engagement rules might include how employees are expected to interact with each other, how meetings are to be conducted, and how issues are to be dealt with within the organization.  Rules of engagement in personal relationships might include communicating issues instead of ignoring them, not making plans without discussing them first, and not having cell phones at the table when eating. 

Rules of engagement give people parameters that make it easier to understand expectations.  Unlike the military use of rules of engagement to define the behaviors that cannot be taken, the rules of engagement in non-military situations often provide both do’s and don’ts.

Think about the first week of school – your teachers typically made the rules of engagement in the classroom clear.  There was the rule of raising your hand instead of blurting out, asking permission to go to the bathroom, keeping your hands to yourself, and being respectful of other people’s things.

These rules of engagement made it easier for the teacher to manage the students’ various personalities and energy levels and made it simpler to provide redirection or consequences when someone broke the rules.   These parameters made everyone feel safe and that there was a sense of control.

The same thing goes for creating your personal rules of engagement.  They can help you have a sense of control, especially when things might seem out of control.

This week I’m going to discuss why personal rules of engagement are important and how to choose your own.


Why personal rules of engagement are important


As a working mom, you are pulled in many different professional and personal directions.  Managing so many people, places, and things can become overwhelming and energy-depleting.

You’re probably bombarded with more decisions in one day than your great-great-grandmother had to make in one month.  There’s no denying that your busy life just seems to be getting busier.

Because most of us are trying to keep our heads above water most of the time, it’s important to pause every now and then and assess what’s working and what isn’t.  I’m going to bet that you’ve probably got a lot of things on “rinse and repeat” and haven’t decided on purpose how you want to show up at work and in your personal life.

The more hectic things become, the easier it is just to keep doing what you’ve always done because what’s familiar doesn’t take as much energy.  As I’ve shared on the podcast before, your brain loves things to be on a “rinse and repeat” cycle because it’s motivated to conserve as much energy as possible.

The issue is that we’ve never been taught how to override that part of our brain that wants us to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, even if what we’re doing isn’t helpful.  This is why one of the reasons that personal rules of engagement are important is because they put you in charge of living more intentionally.

Unless you understand how to train your brain, you will gravitate toward what’s familiar.  Without being intentional and deciding on purpose, you’re leaving your parameters up to other people’s opinions and expectations.

As young girls, we have a lot of well-meaning people, like our parents and teachers, trying to help us navigate our lives and keep us safe.  We don’t question their authority, and until we become teenagers, we often don’t push back and attempt independence.

But now that you’re an adult woman and probably have children of your own, it’s time to take back authority over what is and isn’t acceptable to you.  It’s time to decide to take what you like and leave the rest, choosing how you want to be in this world.

Another reason personal rules of engagement are important is that they make decision-making so much easier.  If there’s one thing that depletes the energy of accountant moms, it’s decision fatigue.

Thankfully, creating your own rules of engagement can make decision-making much easier.  Your chosen rules of engagement can be used as a filter to make decisions for yourself and your family.

Your personal rules of engagement can also make it much easier to direct your time and attention.  When you have clear parameters, you can say No without overthinking it and judging yourself afterward.

For example, if working on the weekends when there’s no deadline is not allowed per your rules of engagement, then you’ll feel less guilty not working on the weekends.  You’ll be able to be fully present with whatever you choose to do because your rules of engagement are not to be broken.

So now that you know the importance of personal rules of engagement, let’s talk about how to create them.  


How to choose your personal rules of engagement


If you’re not sure where to start, here’s something that might help – defining your rules of engagement is simply a matter of stating and clarifying your personal expectations and the actions you will or won’t take.  They’re like the GPS map that will get you the results you most want, taking into account some of the obstacles and detours that might be on your path.

To choose your personal rules of engagement, you need to get clear about your priorities, values, what’s most important to you, and why.  Make sure you have a compelling reason for choosing a personal rule of engagement and focus on what you will get from it rather than how other people may react.

For example, if the result you want is more time with your family, then one of your rules of engagement might be that you unapologetically say No if a request crosses a set time boundary.   If a client asks for a meeting at 6 pm on a weeknight, and your personal rules of engagement include leaving the office by 5:30 pm, then you can offer the client other times that don’t break your rule.

Here’s the thing – make sure you don’t let your fear-based lower brain catastrophize having to tell the client No.  That lower part of your brain is programmed to make everything seem like your survival depends on it, so be clear about what’s important to you and why.

One of my personal rules of engagement is not to be involved in too many social activities.  For years I was involved in various groups, but eventually realized how draining it was on me.

As an introvert, I need to conserve my energy as much as possible, so I can be at my best, which means being okay with saying No a lot and not feeling guilty about it.  I finally realized that if I don’t make my time and energy important, then who will?

Another way to create your personal rules of engagement is to have some questions that will help you determine the actions you do or don’t take.  I was recently listening to a podcast, and the host shared the following 3 questions as their rules of engagement:

#1 – Does it make sense for me to be involved?

#2 – Who benefits?

#3 – Am I available to deal with this?

Now let’s go over each of these questions.

The first question, “Does it make sense for me to be involved?” is a great question to ask as a working mom.  The truth is that you don’t always need to be involved in everything; your input isn’t always required, and your attention isn’t always needed.  You can take more pressure off yourself when you stop and question whether it makes sense to be involved, giving you more time and energy for other things.

The truth is that we have become overly involved in a lot of things.  We’re allowing our time and attention to be pulled in too many directions.  

Making this question one of your rules of engagement helps you pause before you act or react.  It allows you to decide on purpose rather than doing what you’ve always done.

The second question, “Who benefits?” gives you a chance to do a cost-benefit analysis of your time and attention.  There’s always some cost to every choice we make; therefore, it’s important to be clear about who will benefit and who doesn’t when considering the action you’re going to take.

Look at all the parties involved when you’re making a decision – who does it affect, what do I lose, will this cost me, and what will it cost?  Every decision benefits someone or something, so it’s important to take a pause and look at who will benefit from a decision you’re considering.

You need to weigh the costs versus the benefits for the short-term and the long-term.  Your lower, primitive brain is motivated by immediate gratification, but your higher brain can focus on delayed gratification and long-term benefit, so make sure you’re looking at the big picture with your higher brain.

The third question, “Am I available to deal with this?” can help you to conserve your time and energy.  Not everyone should have access to you; you have to protect your energy by not saying Yes to everything and everyone.

This can be tough for moms, but you have to begin to extricate yourself more.  From what?  From whatever you decide.

You need to be more protective over who has access to you because if you continue to say Yes without running a decision through your rules of engagement, eventually, you will run out of steam.  And if you fall apart, no one wins.

Who and what do you want to be available to?  Who and what do you need to say No to?  Who and what have you been giving too much time and energy to?  If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, do you honestly have anything to give?

Making yourself available to everyone and everything is not kind to you or them because it eventually creates overwhelm and resentment.  Begin to question whether you are emotionally, physically, or mentally available to deal with various things and be honest with yourself.

My husband just reminded me of a situation a few years ago that ties to the 3 questions.  Someone I went to high school with had posted something on Facebook that I disagreed with and was about to have a debate with them.

When I answered the first question – does it make sense for me to be involved? – the answer was probably not.  When I asked the second question – who benefits? – the answer was no one.  When I answered the third question – am I available to deal with this? – I realized that the whole situation was a waste of my time so I removed myself from the conversation.

It didn’t make sense for me to be involved, it didn’t benefit me, and I didn’t want to make myself available to deal with it.  My rules of engagement allowed me to extricate myself and not waste anymore time thinking about it.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what rules of engagement are about how to choose your own.  Just remember, for you to be at your best, you have to intentionally choose how you engage with the people, places, and things in your world.   




The more hectic things become, the easier it is just to keep doing what you’ve always done because what’s familiar doesn’t take as much energy. 


Rules of engagement give people parameters that make it easier to understand expectations.