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.

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.