Not setting boundaries often results in lost time, less effectiveness, and negative effects on our wellbeing. In the work that I do, I see how difficult it is for people to say no to others and find it hard to accept that they don’t have to make other people’s emergencies their own. There are myriad reasons why this is true, but they aren’t as important as strategies to reverse this dynamic and make boundary setting easier. Here are a few suggestions:
Plan Ahead. Most of us end up confronted with the prospect of having to say “no” in the heat of the moment when our rational parts of our brains are turned off and can’t help us articulate precisely what we want to say. Often, this doesn’t go well and conflict may escalate. A little planning can help with this: decide whom and in what situations you frequently find yourself struggling to say “no” to last-minute and unreasonable requests. Then, think about what you will say to protect yourself during those moments.
Next, think about what you need before another potentially uncomfortable situation arises. Is it a parade of people asking for help, knocking on your proverbial door, and ignoring the “busy” sign? Or is somebody asking something reasonable for most, but something you struggle doing? Regardless of what it is, deal with what you need by having a mitigation strategy.
I am not going to pretend to understand your day-to-day demands and stresse.s There is no one-size-fits all way for harm reduction when setting boundaries. That said, what I do suggest is that you match your mitigation strategy with the situation. For the former example above: try to set availability time, or another more controllable channel for questions from others. For the latter example: use your authenticity and vulnerability to explain why it’s difficult to support the person in the way they have asked; instead, offer support in other ways that would be mutually beneficial, if not advantageous, to both parties.
Finally, people who try to steal our time are often more misguided. They likely have trouble containing their inability to prioritize their own demands. Therefore, when you say “no,” say it to the request , not the person. In other words, have a “business case” reason for why your time is better spent serving another task rather than the one being asked of you by somebody else. It’s very difficult to argue against a clear rationale for why your boundary aligns with the needs of the collective whole of the institution.
Do you struggle with professional boundaries? Many of us do, especially supervisors. If you relate to these pain points and like these tips, consider joining us for Fundamentals of Supervision.
Guest Blog by John Mancuso
Learn more about John’s next supervisor skills course, Rockin’ Your Supervisory Role.