Let’s face it, most of us women struggle to set boundaries. Whether it’s at home with our children or partner, or at work with our boss or colleagues, we’re the ones most likely to give in to requests, to bow down when pressured, to try and twist ourselves like a pretzel in order to keep everyone happy.
Despite knowing why the boundary is important, or who the people are who “use” us the most, we often find ourselves begrudgingly doing other people’s stuff, or stressed out with everybody else’s leftovers on our plate.
And this is not just in the workplace. For the longest time, I struggled to set boundaries with my children (and sometimes still do). And I know I’m not the only one. As women, we’re burdened not only with a relational nature, but also with maternal instincts that make it very hard to say no to a begging child.
More than once, I sat listening to my child’s never-ending stories when both she and I needed to be asleep in bed. When I said no, I would lay awake with the guilt of having let my child down. When I didn’t, I zombied around the next day with inadequate sleep and a throbbing headache.
What changed this lose-lose scenario was having an If Then plan. If then plans are effective techniques of bypassing the neural circuitry of the emotional brain. You see, when someone approaches us with a request that we know we cannot or should not honor, our emotional brain begins to flash REJECTION on our subconscious mental jumbotron. Sometimes we hear it as in “They’ll hate you” or “You can’t let him down” or “They’ll tell your boss and you’ll be fired”. And sometimes we don’t, because we’ve just become so used to complying.
With an If Then plan, we can decide exactly what we’ll say or do in advance, when our rational thinking is still intact, so we’re well prepared to respond in a sensible and reasonable manner.
Professor Adam Grant has made a list of such replies that can help in the workplace. I’ve added some of them below. I encourage you to add to the list depending on your situation and what will work best for you.
What adding to the list, remember to keep 3 things in mind:
- Be clear on what you want
- Be direct and specific – no “ums” and “sorrys”
- Show empathy – see if you can help in a way that doesn’t cost you your wellbeing
Part of Professor Grant’s list:
The Deferral: “I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up.”
The Introduction: “This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.”
The Relational Account: “If I helped you, I’d be letting others down.”
My add-on with my daughter (the one who’s a night lark and tests my boundaries every bedtime):
The Scare: “Well honey, if I stayed up with you tonight, I’ll be a monster tomorrow and that’s not how I want to be with my precious children. I promise I’ll listen to your stories after school”
Simple, sweet and no harm done.
Your turn: Where in your life have you benefitted/ will you benefit from boundaries? What exactly have you said/ will you say when approached?