Better Workplace Boundaries: Saying “No” Strategically

workplace boundariesYou 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.

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.

8 Focal Points for Deeper Listening

listening, communicationEarly in your career, your idea of being a good communicator might have been making cogent arguments and clearly expressing yourself verbally and in writing. This would prove your capability.

But those things, while very important, are not the keys to becoming really great at communication.

With experience and more confidence in yourself, you gradually discover that communication is less about how you express yourself and more about how deeply you listen to others. Listening allows you to focus on what is important to others. In turn, you can then tailor your communication to them to find common ground or to respond appropriately.

Listening requires that you move beyond merely hearing the words expressed by others. Instead it requires that you tune into communication aspects other than words. Like the insight tied to your “3rd Eye”, it’s as if your physical ears are tuned to the words used and your “3rd ear” is tuned to a deeper level.

Use your “3rd ear” to listen for one or all of the following to deepen your listening:

Commitments, Aspirations, Point Of View, Interests

What is important to this person that they would put whatever it took into accomplishing, preserving, exemplifying, etc.? What’s their vantage point?

Emotions, Fear or Disappointments

Based on tone of voice, word choice, and facial expressions, what is the overriding feeling this person is experiencing and what does that tell you? What might they regret or want to avoid?

Values or Priorities

For which principle(s) are they taking a stand? What’s important to them?

Analogies

Are they using similes, metaphors, or other comparisons? How can these analogies apply to the way forward?

The Crux of the Matter

What is at the heart of their message that they might not have put into words?

Impacts

How did you or someone else impact them? Did it help or hinder them in their pursuit?

How to Help or Serve

Underneath it all, are they asking for or do they want/need something from you?

Simply Hold Space

Sometimes, others just need a witness as they wrestle with a conundrum or to clarify their own thinking. You don’t really need to DO anything. Your presence alone is enough.

Next time, you’re listening to someone, practice zeroing in on one of these areas. What do you hear? How does it add to their words and your understanding?

 

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.

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.

 

Learning from Challenges: Harvesting Lessons from the Underworld

underworld, initiation, self-awarenessInitiations are cycles of physical or psychological separation, ordeal, and return that we encounter throughout our lives. When we fully integrate the lessons from these experiences, we develop as people and leaders. (See a previous article on initiations) However, if during or upon returning from an initiation cycle, you fail to reflect on the ordeal, you are likely to repeat similar fact patterns with similar people. As a leader, it’s imperative that you learn from these initiatory cycles to become the best person/ leader you can be.

In the story of Persephone’s abduction into the Underworld, she starts the story as a young maiden, known as Kore/Persephone (Kore meaning “young girl”). During her time in the Underworld while separated from her mother Demeter, she knows that if she eats anything there, she will be stuck in the Underworld for eternity. She refused to eat anything while she’s there until Hermes brokers her release. It’s not until she knows she’s going back to her mother that she eats a few pomegranate seeds.

When she sets foot back on earth, the world bursts into bloom, and from there on, Persephone is known as the Queen of the Underworld (no longer Kore). Additionally, Homer wrote that Hecate, known for her wisdom, walked before and after her. This can be interpreted to mean that Persephone had wisdom upon her return that she hadn’t had before her abduction/descent.

Upon her return, Persephone admits to Demeter that she did indeed eat a few pomegranate seeds. This ties her to the Underworld for eternity. Thereafter, she must return for a few months each year.

Self-Awareness from Initiations

Like Persephone, when you return from an underworld initiation, you will have ingested and digested “seeds” of new learning and realization that tie you to the experience. With new insights and wisdom from the experience, you can incorporate that wisdom to become a renewed and better leader.

For each initiatory experience, you can choose to accept, ingest, and digest these “seeds” of insight and wisdom to further your return/reintegration from the circumstance by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What role did I play in that situation?
  • How did I contribute to the difficulty?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • What was that situation trying to tell me about myself?
  • What is the opportunity for me now?
  • What can I practice or do differently when similar situations happen?

There will be more challenges ahead, more initiations, as if each were designed to help you grow as a leader. But if you don’t take time to reflect on the “seeds” you can take away from each initiatory experience, you may stay stuck in the underworld, repeating the same unpleasant pattern.

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.