workplace boundaries, appease

Better Workplace Boundaries: Saying “No” Strategically

You might be feeling overworked or overwhelmed because there doesn’t seem to be enough time for you to do what you want and must do. So many people want you to weigh in or work on something. So many tasks need to be accomplished now! You might feel torn in so many directions, or feel you’re not moving forward with the important or critical work.

It’s hard to hear, but chances are it’s mostly your own fault.

If this sounds like your experience, it’s very possible you established boundaries that serve everyone else instead of you. Consequently, your boundaries aren’t working for sanity or productivity (although they might be serving your ego identity and that will be another blog post for the future).

Why would you put yourself in the position of being pulled in too many directions for your own good? As a woman, there are biological and cultural forces that might be contributing.

Female Biology and Cultural Attitudes Encourage Women to Foster Relationships

Biologically, research using brain scans shows that female brain structure and function put a premium on bonding with others and building relationships. Additionally, the female hormone estrogen and the hormone oxytocin (usually higher in females), promote bonding with others. Moreover, many cultural norms expect women to be “warm”, accommodating, and passive.

While there’s nothing wrong with showing warmth, putting others first, and not always getting your own way, it’s not always required or even healthy for you to put your needs, wants, and priorities last. When your own attention and priorities slip to the bottom of the list on a regular basis, you’ll feel negative emotions, such as taken for granted, underappreciated, or overwhelmed. You can avoid these feelings by enforcing healthy boundaries that serve to honor your priorities while allowing you to be a team player who appropriately pitches in to assist others.

In order to do this, you’ll want to consciously and strategically choose when to say “no” to protect your own time, attention, and energy and when to work on others’ priorities for the good of your team or company.

If your plate is already full, here are some guidelines for when, to whom, and how to say “no”:

Who’s Asking?

Consider your experience and position. The more senior you are, the more leeway you have to “say no” to others with less experience or seniority, unless it will be good for your career in the company; gives you desired/important job skills; or will be personally gratifying.

As a general rule, you will honor requests from your boss or other senior leader. If that feeling of overwhelm creeps in, work with your boss to ensure you both agree how you will re-prioritize your other projects and tasks as necessary.

When Saying “No” Is Warranted.

Consider declining a request for your time, attention, and energy when the request does not come from your boss and when at least one of the following is true:

  • The work does not align or correspond with your current personal and work priorities.
  • You can’t accept the request without your other work priorities suffering;
  • The requested work does not offer you a significant opportunity for learning or career development; or

Another way to look at it is consider saying “yes” if the requested work fits in with your current priorities; you can take it on without putting your own work on hold; or the requested work is a great opportunity to learn or meet other people that will be great for your current position or your career trajectory in general.

How to Say “No” Without Appearing Uncaring or Selfish.

In general, it’s best to say “no” as little as possible and in line with your current time commitments and career aspirations. One suggestion is to indicate you’ll accept if certain conditions can be met. For example, you could say, “YES, I am happy to be a part of that project IF it will only take about an hour of my time each week.”

Other ways to say “no” include:

  • Indicate that the relationship is important by being gracious when “saying no”.
  • Take time to consider the request before declining. A fast, abrupt “no” can leave the other person believing you didn’t even listen to what they asked.
  • Be clear that you are saying “no”. Too much sugar-coating or hemming and hawing will bury your “no” and lead to misunderstandings.
    Show respect by declining requests in person if possible.
  • Don’t refuse a request just because it’s outside your comfort zone. Say “yes” if it won’t take away from your current focus and/or is related to your work priorities, learning, or career development.

You probably say “yes” to many requests to look like a team player when you really don’t need to. It’s okay to decline a request. However, when you do say “no”, it won’t always be easy. Keep in mind you are going against your biology and family or cultural norms. So, be smart about how you decline a request. Others will respect knowing where your boundaries are, and you’ll teach them over time when to ask.

WANT TO USE THIS  IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Harmonize Your Work/Life Balance

calm responseA recent survey found that 66% of workers in the US struggle with finding the right work/life balance – and they aren’t all parents. With our 24/7 culture, even employees without children find it challenging to keep work and home priorities in reasonable proportions. The real issue isn’t the continual balancing act between work and home; rather, it is the fact you don’t know what the balance is all about.

When you are clear about what’s important to you, choices are easier to make, and you are more content with your decisions. In contrast, when you aren’t clear and find yourself struggling with decisions about where to spend your time and energy, your feelings of stress and guilt go up and your energy plummets.

To get back more energy and to counter the stress and guilt of where to focus, re-frame the idea finding “work/life balance” by harmonizing your personal identity and purpose with your current employment.

How Compatible is Your Personal Vision /Mission with Work?

Start with creating a big picture vision for how you want your life to be. Your vision includes what you want to experience and/or contribute throughout your lifetime. Your corresponding mission goes into more detail about what you want to do to make your vision come true as you use your talents and gifts.

Once you have a broad personal vision and mission, notice how compatible they are with those of your chosen career and current employer. For example, if your vision is to create a world where you help others express themselves uniquely, using your ability to empathize with others, see how that dovetails with your career. I’ll assume it is possible to fulfill you vision and mission in all careers, while it’s easier to do so in some versus others. The more you can live your own vision and mission through your career, the less you’ll struggle with work/life balance and the more you’ll be in flow.

Also, compare your personal vision and mission with those of your company. They don’t have to match up 100%. However, the less overlap, the more likely you’ll experience the dissonance between them, causing those feelings of overwhelm and lack of balance. If the disconnect is great, you may want to consider finding an employer that is more in line with your personal vision and mission.

How About Your Personal Values?

As with your vision and mission, work and home harmony is easier the more your personal values are in line with your employer’s values. To assess this, determine your top 3 personal values — the conceptual principles that are critically important to you and by which you act and make decisions. Seek commonality or connection between your personal values and those touted and lived by your company. For example, if one of your core values is “honesty” and you work for a company that is deceptive with customer and employees, then you might routinely feel conflicted at work – even if that company purports to value “honesty” or “integrity”. In contrast, if the company goes the extra mile to be honest and keep its promises with customers and employees, you’ll experience more harmony and flow.

Again, you don’t need 100% alignment between your core values and those of your employer. Yet, the more synergy there is between them, the less tension, overwhelm, and guilt you’ll have about spending extra time at work or taking time off for personal priorities.

Harmonizing Goals, Projects, and Tasks

Based on your vision, mission, and values, you probably have set some aspirations for yourself, personally and professionally. Compare these personal and career goals/aspirations with the goals you are currently charged with at work. Is there a way to further your personal goals through your work goals? Often, work goals give you opportunities to receive training and make connections that are beneficial personally.

In turn, focusing on the relevant projects and tasks that further your work goals can also harmonize your schedule between work and home. When you intentionally schedule the work tasks that further company goals, you may realize you’ve been caught up in a lot of “busy” work that has sapped your time and energy, leaving you with the stress and guilt of not attending to things at home.

That’s why it’s important to align your personal and work priorities. Doing so, can clarify the personal and work choices presented to you. When your career and current employment fit within your personal vision, mission, values, goals, and priorities, the balance or harmony between them is greater.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team with These Simple Tips

inspire engage teamIt’s easy to lose focus on the fact that your team’s work is part of a strategic plan to accomplish the company’s big picture vision and mission. You can get so caught up your own focus and tasks that you assume everyone else is automatically aware of how their work connects to the company vision and mission. Consequently, your team and its work becomes mundane, reactive and uninspired. This kind of atmosphere can lead to higher turnover and lower productivity and engagement.

This disconnect between vision/mission and daily work happens in part because you forget that leading others requires you to continually make the connection between their work and the company’s vision, purpose, and mission. Also, you might be making assumptions that others can read your mind and that they know why they’ve been asked to complete various tasks. People are not mind readers. This is why you must be transparent, explicit, and quite frankly, redundant. After all, it’s said that people don’t really “get” something until they’ve heard it 7 times.

When you don’t share the vision and overall outcome with your team for a project or individual assignment, you’ll likely experience less cooperation between team members because they will focus only on their piece. Your team doesn’t volunteer their perspectives or participate in problem solving because they can only see as far the tip of their current task — they don’t see the bigger picture or the final aspiration. When your team is this myopic, they can become defensive when mistakes happen and look for someone else to blame. After all, they did what they were assigned.

Daily work happens routinely and re-actively; direct reports are uninspired; and your team dreads meetings because they are boring. Even one-on-ones become simple updates with little discussion or input from your employees.

How To Use Vision to Re-Inspire and Engage Your Team

To inspire your team and to increase their engagement in their work, use these tips to re-connect daily work to the big picture vision and mission:

  1. Communicate the vision and mission regularly. At the start of a project, during meetings, or when processing through mistakes or failures, make a brief introductory statement to remind everyone involved why you’re working on what you’re working on and what overall end results you’re headed for. Embrace any chance you get to remind your team of the big picture for why your company exists.
  2. Connect the dots from general vision to daily work. When assigning work to your team, describe the general outcome desired and why this outcome impacts the world, your customers, the team, etc. Then describe how the team’s work is meant to contribute to moving the company in that direction. Doing this provides your opportunity to discuss which aspects of the work are critical along with the timing of the work to reach milestones.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

This is Why You’re Not Taken Seriously in Meetings

meeting; team; working in groups; leading groupsDo you feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve with your colleagues? Here are 6 suggestions for enhancing your credibility in meetings:

1. You don’t pre-pave

Find out what people are thinking about the agenda items ahead of time and start to plant seeds for your point of view on important topics. A quick check in with others a day or two before the meeting is all it usually takes.

2. You arrive “late” or leave “early”

If you are only showing up for the actual meeting, you might be missing out on an opportunity to strengthen relationships with others. Arrive about 10 minutes early to chat and network with others when you can talk about non-work-related topics. Avoid leaving right at the end of meeting and consider staying for the “after-party” to wrap up conversations, build rapport with others, or gather more information on an important topic discussed during the meeting.

3. You act like a personal assistant instead of a colleague

This one is especially for the ladies: You teach people how to treat you! Once in a while it’s fine to do little things for others, but don’t get in the habit of always fetching beverages for others, making copies, or taking notes. Encourage your peers to rotate these duties if they are regularly required at your meetings.

4. You back down when interrupted

People in management can often be very fast-moving, driven, and impatient. That means, some are in the habit of interrupting and talking over others to make a point. If this happens to you, don’t back down. Instead, calmly and directly callout the interruption and continue on. Also, be sure to speak up for others when someone interrupts them.

5. You don’t confidently own your ideas and positions

Have you ever offered a comment or idea that was met with silence, then minutes later someone else re-asserts your idea as though it’s their own? When that happens to you, calmly call attention to the fact that you previously said the same thing, and use humor if appropriate to make your point. For example, you can say, “That is a great idea, and I think it was just as great a few minutes ago when I said it.”

Also, another way to show your confidence is to avoid backing down when challenged. Instead, realize that many of the personalities in your meeting are forthright and maybe even skeptical. Now worries. Calmly assert your position and provide back-up rationale to support it.

6. You use too many words

Avoid thinking aloud or appearing to ramble. Make sure you state your point up front then provide pertinent supporting information to substantiate it.

Adapt these suggestions to the norms in your workplace regarding meeting expectations. Then, regardless of how others treat you, remain calm and collected, don’t be shy about asking questions to understand issues better, and stand your ground when you need to.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more influence inside their organizations, by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and impact with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Do You “Run Toward the Roar”?

roar, face fearsWhen was the last time you got out of your “comfort zone”? Here’s a story, from storyteller Michael Meade, about the fact that seeking safety might be costing you something:

On the ancient savannas life pours forth in the form of teeming, feeding herds. Nearby, lions wait in anticipation of the hunt. They send the oldest and weakest member of the pride away from the hunting pack.

Having lost most of its teeth, ITS ROAR IS FAR GREATER THAN ITS ABILITY TO BITE.
The old one goes off and settles in the grass across from where the hungry lions wait.

As the herds enter the area between the hunting pack and the old lion, the old lion begins to roar mightily. Upon hearing the fearful roar most of the herd turn and flee from the source of the fear.

They run wildly in the opposite direction. Of course, they run right to where the strongest lions of the group wait in the tall grass for dinner to arrive.

“RUN TOWARDS THE ROAR,” the old people used to tell the young ones.

When faced with great danger run towards the roaring, for there you will find some safety and a way through.

Sometimes the greatest safety comes from going to where the fear seems to originate. Amidst the roaring of the threatened and troubled world, surprising ways to begin it all again may wait to be found.

Michael Meade, Excerpted from his book, The World Behind the World

What you can take away from this story:

1. Running towards what appears “safe” can be deceiving and lead to its own kind of trouble.
2. Run towards what scares you.

Look for those situations and circumstances that scare the crap out of you. You will never know your true talents and gifts if you don’t face what you fear to test yourself.

3. Things almost always seem worse in your head than they turn out to be.

Once you identify those fears, move beyond your comfort zone to face them. What you originally feared could end up being an elderly, toothless lion that can’t hurt you and is only a distraction.

4. By facing your fears, you find out what you can truly do and what’s possible.

And with each successive time you venture out toward a “scary” adventure, you’ll find that you are safe and capable. At the worst, you might fail but you’ll find out where you stand and what you have to learn. Then, at least you can figure out a way through to what you want.

And in all likelihood, you’ll live to venture out another day.

Which current “roar” are you avoiding? How might you test it to see if it really has teeth?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

What Psyche Can Teach You About Being Authentic

vision, authentic, perspectiveIs it difficult for you to find the right balance between being task-focused and relationship-focused? Is it simply challenging to figure out how “nice” you need to be at work? Do you ever wonder what it really means to be a good team player?

If you’ve never had these dilemmas, you’re lucky. Read no further.

For the rest of you, making sense of the mixed messages you receive as a woman in the workplace can be distracting and down right maddening. Mixed feedback about how you’re supposed to act can make you hesitate and even hide behind an inauthentic persona. This can keep you from realizing your full potential or embracing your leadership role.

The timeless mythological story of Psyche’s Four Tasks provides guidance.

The Story of Eros and Psyche

Psyche, a beautiful mortal woman, fell in love with and married what turned out to be the god of love, Eros. He was the son of the goddess Aphrodite, who out of jealously of Psyche’s beauty, had initially jinxed Psyche so that she would not fall in love with any mortal man. The jinx backfired and much to Aphrodite’s chagrin, her immortal son Eros fell in love with Psyche and they married, with the caveat that Psyche could never actually look at him.

However, Psyche couldn’t help herself. She carried an oil lamp and a knife into his bedroom (in case he turned out to be a monster), and took a forbidden look at Eros while he was sleeping in the dark. Unfortunately, the lamp dripped hot oil on Eros and awakened him. Interpreting this as a sign of mistrust, Eros ran off and abandoned Psyche. Heart-broken, Psyche appealed to her disapproving mother-in-law Aphrodite for help to get him back.

Jealous Aphrodite saw an opportunity to be rid of Psyche once and for all. She devised four seemingly impossible tasks for Psyche to complete in order to get back Eros. Psyche’s 4 tasks provide guidance for illuminating a situation (the lamp), dissecting it, and cutting away what doesn’t serve you (the knife). Doing so, allow you to make a decision that is authentic for you in your home and work relationships.

Task #1 – Sorting Seeds with Discernment.

Aphrodite put Psyche in a room that was full of many varieties of seeds all mixed together and instructed Psyche to sort all of the seeds overnight if she wanted Eros back. Psyche was overwhelmed and didn’t know how she would to do it. Then, a line of tiny, diligent ants entered the room and began to sort the tiny seeds for her.

The lesson: A situation may seem daunting at first, but you must examine what you have to contend with. So, listen to the small, still voice inside (ants), then diligently sift and sort through all available information to decide what is important based on your priorities and values.

Task #2 – Nab Golden Fleece at the Right Time.

Aphrodite then assigned Psyche the task of collecting golden fleece from the nasty Rams of the Sun. Again, Psyche thought this task impossible because these rams were large, tough, no-nonsense, powerful creatures. Coming to her aid, a flexible green reed advised Psyche that she could avoid the rams by waiting until they left the field at the end of the day, then pick their fleece from brambles they brushed up against after they had gone for the day.

 The lesson: Be flexible enough to watch and wait for the opportune time to go after what you want. There may be a way to do accomplish what you want with less direct conflict, allowing you to maintain relationships.

Task #3 – Fill the Flask After Gaining Perspective.

Next, Psyche must fill a flask with water from an intimidating stream, guarded by dragons. While Psyche doubted her ability to fill the flask, Zeus’s eagle arrived, grabbed the flask, and flew to an opportune spot to fill it for her.

 The lesson: When you get overwhelmed with deciding how to engage with a situation and those involved, pull back like the eagle to get a broader perspective of the bigger picture to find patterns. Then, spot the salient details before making decisions.

Task #4 – Fetching Beauty Cream in the Underworld Without Distraction.

Finally, Aphrodite sent Psyche to the Underworld to refill a box with beauty ointment. To make things even more difficult, Aphrodite tells Psyche that three pathetically desperate people in the Underworld will beg her for help as a distraction from her quest. A tall tower advises Psyche to harden her heart, ignore them, and concentrate on fulfilling her task.

The lesson: You must keep your eye on your tasks and goals and learn to assert your boundaries by exercising a conscious choice to say “yes” or “no” to others’ requests.

Psyche completed the four tasks and won back her beloved Eros. Not all women need nor will they apply Psyche’s lessons in the same way. Still, when you face a dilemma at work or get confusing feedback that reflects someone else’s perspective on who you’re supposed to be, think of Psyche’s lessons and apply the one(s) that are apt in a way that is right for you.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG, OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it:  Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.