How To Set Boundaries Without Being Mean
You know that feeling when you say "yes" to something, then immediately regret it? Whether it’s volunteering for a committee or agreeing to pick up the slack for a sick colleague at work, research conducted by Lise Vesterlund, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, shows that women are more likely than men to:
1. Volunteer to do non-promotable tasks.
2. Be asked to do non-promotable tasks.
3. Say yes when asked to do these mundane tasks.
Women are overcommitted in a lot of ways, and tend to feel more of a psychological burden when asked to do someone a favor. Part of Vesterlund's research showed that while considering how to respond to a request, 31% of women felt worn out, were worried, had a difficult time saying no, and were afraid of being perceived as someone who is not helpful. In comparison, less than 10% of the men felt this way. Men, in contrast, were concerned with whether it was a good use of their time, would it help their career, and would the person owe them a favor in the future.
What can women do to change this pattern? Here are seven tips to help you say no with ease:
1. Start small.
To begin with, pick something small that you would like to say no to, then see how it feels to get that one thing off your plate. Once you’ve refused to do something small, you'll see that people don't hate you, life goes on, and the world continues turning. Next time it will be easier to say no to a bigger request.
2. Trust your body.
If something feels heavy in your body or just feels wrong within you, then you should say no to the request. If you feel light and free when considering it, then definitely say yes. Learn how to recognize your own internal signals and ignore the pressure that others put on you.
3. Practice awareness and compassion.
Recognize that it is normal to be worried about someone not liking you if you refuse a request. Feeling guilty or afraid that people will not trust you or value your opinion is also normal. Many times these are the reasons we keep saying yes, even when we’re exhausted and simply don’t have the time. These fears and beliefs won’t go away overnight, but you can choose a new outcome by saying no, even though it feels scary!
4. Don’t apologize.
There's no need to say, "I’m sorry," when your answer is no. You haven’t done anything wrong. Instead, start with appreciation and end with "no." This is one of my best pieces of advice for an effective "no." Tell the other person what you appreciate about him/her, then say "no." For example, “I appreciate you for reaching out and can see that it’s important to you to find support as you build this business; however, I won’t be able to get together in person at this time.”
5. Be short and confident in your "no."
When you feel bad or uncertain about saying no, it makes the situation more awkward. People respond to your guilt. They're more likely to push back and try to convince you to change your mind. Be clear, concise, and confident when saying no. For example, "I’m not going to be able to meet you for coffee this week; thank you for the invitation." You don't need to explain why you're saying no.
6. Start a NO Club.
Peer support is incredibly powerful. Get together with a group of friends and discuss what everyone wished she'd said no to in the last month. Ask the group to hold each other accountable in situations going forward. Check in at least once a month, or perhaps every week in the beginning.
7. Focus on your YES.
It is a lot easier to say no when you have a clear picture of what you want to say yes to instead. For example, if you're invited to an event over the weekend that you feel like you should attend, but you'd rather stay home, take a bath, and read your favorite book, picture what you'll be doing as you go to tell the person no. It's easier to be confident and clear with your no if you envision what you'll say yes to instead.
Now you're aware of the research:
1. Women are asked to do more non-promotable tasks at work.
2. Women volunteer for these mundane tasks more.
3. Women say yes more than men do.
You also know that you're not alone, and you have the power to change this pattern immediately! Two out of these three situations are in your direct control, and the third one, that women are asked to do more non-promotable tasks, can be shared with your boss. You may even suggest that going forward, these types of tasks should be randomly assigned.
Most importantly, remember that whenever you say no to something you don’t want to do, it creates space for a YES to come in. And believe me, that yes is worth the wait!
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