Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.
Question: I’m really struggling at work these days.
I’ve heard from peers that I should be grateful to be working while so many others aren’t.
However, reduced staffing (especially in the long-term experience categories) has certainly increased demands on my time. There always seems to be an urgent or pressing matter that someone is asking me to address.
It’s exhausting and I’m falling behind on the work I need to do. I feel completely overwhelmed and am growing increasingly resentful of the demands on my time.
I’ve heard you speak about setting healthy boundaries, but I’m not sure how to go about this without jeopardizing my current employment status or making things harder for those are struggling as well. Any suggestions?
Answer: When it comes to setting healthy boundaries, I encourage you to start learning how to say a polite and yet firm “No,” which we sometimes have a hard time telling others.
Unfortunately, leaving it unsaid can come at your expense. You lose time to do the things you really want (or need) to do, and you can even feel resentful toward the other person and yourself.
Telling others that you can’t acquiesce to their request doesn’t have to be difficult. If you struggle with the concept, here are some ideas you can put to use immediately:
Explain that your other commitments are taking up all your time.
Everyone is too busy at times. The other person will understand that you have a heavy load of other responsibilities. It might help to go into a little detail about the other things you have going on; it will increase their level of understanding.
Say that you’re in the middle of something and you’ll get back to them.
It’s not uncommon to get hit with requests for immediate help. You can let them know that you can’t help right now but you might be able to help soon.
If it really is urgent, they’ll find someone else and shouldn’t feel resentful towards you.
Tell them that you’ll think about it.
This is more of a “Maybe” than an absolute “No.” Avoid using this option if you really do want to say “No.”
Take the time you need to consider it and remember to get back to them. You can suggest your deadline or an alternative that works better for you if you can’t comply fully with their first request.
Tell them that so-and-so would be a better help.
In this case, you’re not refusing to help them. In fact, you are helping them by suggesting someone more capable of satisfying their needs.
Tell them that you’d like to help, but. …
This lets the other party know that you would like to provide assistance to them, but you that you are either too busy or their offer doesn’t meet your needs. It’s similar to No. 1 and No. 4 above, but is more supportive and encouraging.
If you learn to say “No” to the things you really don’t want to do, don’t have the time to do or that don’t fit your needs, your life will be much richer.
Like many other things in life, it gets easier with practice. After you get used to it, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how receptive others can be.
Remember to only tell the truth. One of the options is bound to be true. There’s no reason to feel like you’re being dishonest.
Now go tell some people “No” and see how much better you feel!
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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