Saying No & Setting Boundaries at Work
As millennials we are raised with a scarcity mindset. We feel like we are never doing enough and no job security - making it even harder to say no.
Being able to say no and knowing your boundaries is crucial to work satisfaction. You may have heard many times “say yes to everything!” However, this mentality can lead to:
Being taken advantage of
Performing poorly because you felt pressured to say yes to something you can’t handle
Missing opportunities because you are stretched so thin
Setting boundaries and saying no demonstrates how you will allow your colleagues to treat you and what you are willing to accept. Of course, everyone’s boundaries and what they find acceptable will vary based on personality. The point is to set limits that are comfortable for you. Here are some ways set boundaries and say no at work.
Identify Your Values and Priorities
In order to set boundaries, you need to understand your values and priorities first. Do you value work/life balance, using your creativity, being a part of your community, having time to socialize, engaging in meaningful work, working honestly and with integrity, wealth and success, gaining work responsibilities, fairness? Whatever your values and priorities may be keep them in mind when establishing your boundaries. These will be at the root of what brings you comfort and satisfaction.
Identify Your Boundaries
Try and think of some situations beforehand and how you want to be treated. Some example situations are:
How much do you want to work each week?
What times are you available to work?
Do you want to work overtime? If yes, how much?
Do you want to be contacted outside of work?
How many people do you want to give your personal contact information to?
What constitutes as a work emergency for you?
What do you consider your max workload?
What do you consider outside of your scope of work?
What kind of work do you want to do? What kind of work do you NOT want to do?
You must establish these limits with yourself first so that it is easier to communicate them with colleagues. Otherwise, you may get asked a question that can catch you off guard and agree to more than you are comfortable with.
Identify the Feeling
If you are being asked to do something and you feel either uncomfortable, resentful, or guilty then you know your boundaries are being pushed. Usually if the task is out of your scope or you are unable to add it to your current workload you will have a sense of discomfort. If you feel like you are being taken advantage of or not gaining the experience you expected you will tend to feel resentment. If you are in a work environment where saying no gives you a sense of guilt then it is likely that your boundaries are being pushed.
How to Say No
Communicate your boundaries as early as possible. Communicate the times you feel comfortable being contacted, if you are comfortable with being contacted outside of work or if you are not available. You may feel pressure or guilt to people please but know that you set these boundaries with yourself for a reason and that if the company and environment is right for you they will respect them.
If you are asked to do something that is out of your scope or you are at your maximum for your workload know how to handle it. Try not to use a personal reason like “I can’t because I’m stressed” or “I have too much to do.” While these are valid reasons they are usually frowned upon in a work environment. Instead try giving a concrete explanation. For example, “If I take this on I won’t have enough time to do X” or “I am currently working on X, Y, and Z. If you would like me to do what you are asking I am going to have to push one of these tasks. Do you have any suggestions?” or “my background in that is not as strong as Caroline’s and she is looking to get more involved in projects, would she be a better fit?”
If you don’t establish your boundaries then you will likely feel burnt out from taking on too much. You may also end up feeling resentful of your coworkers and managers for taking advantage of you. Then when you do reach a breaking point where you have to say no it will feel more uncomfortable and out of place for you and those you are working with.
Prepare for Boundary Pushers
Visualize what you will say when someone tries to cross the boundary. For example, if you are emailed in the middle of the night are you going to:
Reply right away
Reply the next morning
Reply the next time you are in office
Reply and say that you are unavailable but will answer during work hours
Any of these are the correct response it just depends on what you are comfortable with and ensuring you have a plan beforehand to reduce the discomfort when the situation arises.
Even when you are fully prepared and know exactly what to say and how to say it there will always be people who still try and push your boundaries. In these situations, stay firm and stand your ground. If you feel like your boundaries are constantly being pushed and questioned it might be time to branch out to a better environment and evaluate those relationships.
I know many of us struggle with confrontation and vocalizing our needs and boundaries. But trust me, unless you are in a very supportive and considerate environment the more you give the more people will take.
Saying no to others can be saying yes to yourself.