23 September 2018

Thank You For Sharing

Cat prowling for inner critic

Are you ever hijacked by a critical voice inside your head that finds fault with your work, your communication, how fast you get things done, your appearance, or any number of other things about you? A voice that’s never satisfied with anything?  You’re not alone!  Many perfectly capable, successful, and wonderful human beings are susceptible to an inner critic who berates them regularly for not measuring up in myriad ways.

But here’s the good news. There are ways to protect yourself from being thrown off course by this dynamic.  You can learn to set a boundary with yourself: you just  don’t allow yourself to be harmed by this voice.

Imagine that your brain contains a committee of voices, your very own idiosyncratic, personalized committee of voices that knows where you’re particularly vulnerable, knows what your hopes and dreams are, and seems to know all your insecurities.  We all have a committee in there.  And when we hear from the critical voices, we hear them as if they were speaking The Truth.  But that’s just a bad habit.  Your committee is just a random group of voices picked up from here and there over the course of your life . . . your mean second grad teacher, your Great-Uncle Howard, some author you read as a college student . . . you get the idea. There’s really no REASON to take their pronouncements at The Truth.

According to Tara Mohr, in her extraordinary book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, not having good defenses against the Inner Critic is one of the classic obstacles to women’s reaching the level of success (of any type) they aspire to.  She devotes a whole chapter to the Inner Critic, examining its detrimental impact, the groundlessness of its content, and its seeming universality.  More important, she identifies 9 different tactics that can be used to protect oneself from the Inner Critic. She also offers some examples of what’s NOT effective in disarming it.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

I want to offer two favorite tactics of my own for disarming the critical voices:

  • One is to think of them as the mean Muppets in the balcony. Say to yourself, “This is just mean-spirited nonsense, and I’m not going to let it in.” Just consider it a boundary: that kind of talk is neither true nor useful, and you’re not going to allow it to touch your sense of yourself.
  • Another one (hands down, my clients’ favorite) is to hear yourself responding to them in your own voice, “Thank you for sharing.”  And follow that with, “That’s your opinion, but I’m not buying it, thank you very much. I see it differently.”  Period.  Don’t engage, don’t get into an argument. Just move on. The beauty of this tactic is that when you’re alone, you can actually say “Thank you for sharing” out loud, which is very powerful and often kind of fun!  Next time you can’t say it out loud, you can remember the sound of your own voice saying these words, which you might enjoy!

The task at hand here is to try out these tactics — mine or Tara Roth’s or someone else’s — and find out what works for you.  The more you can free yourself from the needless oppression of the Inner Critic, the more fulfilling and satisfying your life will be.

Photo by Callum Wale on Unsplash

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5 December 2016

Productivity Series: Tips for Worriers

worry loop

Are you a worrier? Do you sometimes spend time and energy worrying about your finances, your children, your career, world politics, whether someone is mad at you? Worry can either be a highly useful, brilliantly engineered cue to action or a useless, destructive energy drain, an endless loop of wasted, miserable time. The challenge is to decide which it is, on a case-by-case basis, and manage yourself accordingly.

Here is a quick and dirty, 4-step, highly effective way to manage yourself when worry is staring you in the face. .

  1. Learn to recognize when you are worrying.

This takes practice. You may not recognize yourself worrying until you’ve been possessed by a particular worry for days or weeks. But whether you catch yourself in the first minute or the first month, the most important step is recognizing the pattern. You can develop your “witness” over time and become more proficient in noticing when you are worrying.

  1. Determine if something needs to be done.

Ask yourself, “Is the worry a cue to action?”

  • For example, if you are worried that your toddler will get lead paint poisoning from the lead paint on your windows, there is indeed something that needs to be done. You need to get the lead paint removed from your windows. And keep your child well supervised in the meantime.
  • If you don’t know whether or not something needs to be done, find out. You need to get more information – THAT’s what needs to happen.
  1. If something needs to be done, get it done as soon as possible.

Often just deciding to take the action can loosen worry’s grip on you. But it’s critical that you follow through – take that action as soon as it is feasible.

  • Call the state agency that deals with lead paint removal and get the names of contractors who do that kind of work. Get moving with hiring and scheduling a contractor. Call your pediatrician and get advice about how to protect your child during the removal process and follow up on every detail.
  1. If nothing needs to be done, release the worry.
  • If the lead paint removal is scheduled, your child is adequately supervised, and you’re following all of the pediatrician’s instructions, there is nothing more to be done. Your job in this case is to re-focus your attention elsewhere.

For most people, relinquishing the worry is the hardest part. If you generally let worry run unchecked, you know that it’s a very greedy dynamic that will steal as much of your attention as you let it. Left unchecked, it will reduce your effectiveness and productivity. Some serious boundary-setting with yourself is absolutely required here.

Experiment with the following strategy. In your mind, respond to the worry with something like this: “Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your concern (this is important). But there is nothing more to be done right now, so I’m going to stop thinking about this.” Then get yourself to focus on something else – find something else compelling and engaging to think about. You might line up some contenders in advance. Just about anything that works for you will do.

Sooner or later, the worry will return. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as needed. This is an iterative process. Hang in there!

Here is a short list of some of the worries that my clients and I have learned to deal with more effectively:

  • Personal finances. My client regularly pictured herself as a bag lady, penniless, homeless, and alone on the street, despite her current (and past) circumstances, which were nothing of the sort. The action that was called for was to develop a strong and detailed financial plan with an expert.
  • Professional failure.  One of my clients worried he was failing in his current job.  The solution for him was to acknowledge that he really needed to improve his performance in one particular part of his job, to get training in that arena, and to get better at it.  He took responsibility for it and had a good outcome, both on the performance side and on the worry side. Another career-anxious client determined there was no action required. She learned to respond to the angst by listing for herself the ways she was effective in her work generally and specifically and  all the ways she was effective today. This activity served to change her state of mind.
  • Someone is upset with me.  Every once in a while I get it into my head that I’ve made some kind of terrible faux pas or exercised terrible judgment and someone I care about (a client, a friend, my son-in-law’s mother) is royally offended, outraged, or angry with me as a result. I’ve learned to muster the courage to go to the person I may have wronged and say, essentially, “I’m concerned that I was inappropriate when I said X to you last week, and I’m so very sorry if I offended you — that was not my intention.” And then to be quiet and listen to their response. 99% of the time, they don’t know what I’m talking about and were not the least bit ruffled by what I said.  Every once in a great while, I really DID say something inappropriate and now I have the chance to clean it up.  Either way, initiating this conversation results in the worry getting cleared up one way or the other.  And at this point in my life, I’m not so reluctant to bring it up, since history has shown me that I’m usually wrong and the person is not upset with me.

Do you need help figuring out whether a worry merits action or how to disarm a stubborn worry-habit? Invest in yourself and get the help you need. Coaching can make a difference. Contact me for an initial meeting at no charge. Get your questions answered, see what it’s like to work with me, and see for yourself if you want to. Most people find the meeting useful, whether or not they decide to work with me.

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11 April 2016

Overhelping: How to Avoid It

 

PauseButton

There’s helping and there’s overhelping.  The line between helping and overhelping is crossed (according to my definition) when the act of helping actually harms the well-being or effectiveness of either the helper or the helped.

Being able to help, fix, & make things right is an excellent, constructive skill-set, a marvelous ability, and a fine inclination. This ability generally includes recognizing when the need exists and knowing what would help.  If you have these abilities, you are likely to deploy your help generously, in the spirit of service, of being useful.  There is nothing wrong with this!

However, at some point in your life, you may need to fine-tune how and when you deploy your fixing skills.  In short, if you don’t already have a PAUSE BUTTON installed, you’ll need to install one in your repertoire of behaviors so that you can activate it at that very moment when you see what needs to be done but before jumping in to help.

During the pause, you’ll need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I have the bandwidth (time, resources, mental energy, time taken away from other projects, etc) to help this person or project AND STILL attend to and be responsible to my own clear, current priorities? If the answer is no, then to help would be to over-help: helping in a way that’s harmful to you.
  2. Does my helping truly help the other person or is it actually doing them no favor?  If the latter, it would be overhelping: not really in the other person or project’s long term best interest.

Then, based on your answers to these questions, make a conscious, intentional, explicit decision about whether to help, and if so, how much.  These steps can take place in seconds, once you’re practiced at it.  If you have the bandwidth, the desire, and the help is not overhelping, then by all means go for it  — let yourself have the pleasure, and give the other person the benefit of your assistance. If you don’t have the bandwidth, don’t offer.  Or don’t say yes to their request.

It’s neither criminal nor pathological to help too much.  It’s a natural stage of professional growth to start noticing when your “fixing” is counterproductive for you or the other person, and when it is, to dial it down.  It’s really just that simple – no need for soul-searching, complex diagnostic analysis, self-criticism or recrimination.  Again – there’s nothing wrong here.

Every skillset and gift has its built-in liability – and full ownership of the gift includes knowing when not to use it. Moving into fuller ownership of this very powerful gift means becoming more judicious about when, how, and how much of it to deploy.  This makes you more powerful in a good way and more effective.

I’ve written about overhelping before — I see a lot of it, particularly among professional women.  If you’re looking to reduce your stress level or increase the amount of time and focus available for your priorities, take a look at your helping behavior. Do you need a pause button? A pause button is a stress management device which, when used strategically, can deeply support you in moving your priorities forward. Can I help you develop YOUR pause button? Contact me and we’ll schedule a conversation about this.

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10 March 2016

Managing Change: Protect Your Tender Ideas

boots 2

Over the years I’ve noticed that people respond in one of two ways when you share with them that you’re considering a big change, like leaving your job to start your own business, deciding to have a 4th child, hiring an assistant, stepping away from the leadership track you have been groomed for, or taking some other risk.

People will either engage with you in a supportive, interested way, or they’ll tell you why it’s a terrible idea. I always encourage my clients, when exploring new possibilities, to avoid sharing their thoughts with the people in their lives who will tell them right off the top why it’s a terrible idea (we all have some of these people in our lives). Hearing why it’s a terrible idea is not only not helpful — it’s actually harmful because it can close down your own important process of exploring and thinking.

While the naysayers generally mean well and may really care about you, their “concern” generally comes from a place of fear, and probably sounds something like this: “What?  Are you, crazy? Why would you leave a great job like the one you have? Where else could you get paid so well and have all those benefits? I think you’re making a big mistake that you’re going to regret.”

When you are considering making changes, your “considerings” need to be treated very gently. They are fragile organisms, like the little not-yet-green shoots that come up from underground in the spring. They are not strong enough to withstand being stomped on by big boots. You very likely already KNOW (or are finding out) all the potential downsides of your new idea — you don’t need to hear their stories of gloom and failure. You need intelligent, open-minded encouragement, informed dialog, and friendly questions that come from curiosity rather than a place of “I know better and you are wrong to do this.”

I suggest waiting until your ideas and thoughts are a little clearer and stronger before sharing them with the people in your life who wear those big boots. You know who they are.

And by all means, examine the pluses and minuses of any big move, and play out for yourself the many possible outcomes. Get inputs. Talk with people who know the terrain. But keep Uncle Fred out of your process.

When my daughters were growing up, they named a dear, well-meaning family member, “The Dream Killer.”  They supported and reminded each other not to share with this person their more out-of-the-box ideas for themselves.  It was one of the few things they agreed on in those years!

Please beware of the Dream Killers in your life, and protect your fledgling ideas from them until you’ve been able to safely, sanely, and fully investigate them. Think ahead about how you will respond to their negativity so that when it comes at you you will be prepared for it.

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18 December 2014

No Means No: Reduce Stress by Protecting Boundaries

While checking out Diana Cullum-Dugan’s terrific new website, I found this fabulous quote:

“Learn to say no to demands, requests, invitations, and activities that leave you with no time for yourself. Until I learned to say no, and mean it, I was always overloaded by stress. You may feel guilty and selfish at first for guarding your down-time, but you’ll soon find that you are a much nicer, more present, more productive person in each instance you do choose to say yes.”  Holly Mosier

I am a passionate believer in every element of what Holly is saying.  What she says is true for me, and I know that many, many of my clients have benifitted from this strategy as well.  It’s not an all-or-nothing deal — it’s an incremental process, used over and over again in a lifetime.

Every piece of this quote is true:

  1. Learn to say no to demands, requests, invitations, and activities that leave you with no time for yourself” or for the people you long to spend time with. I once worked with a client who believed she should accept every social invitation that came her way. She’d never even considered the question, “Do you want to go to this event (spend time with this person, do this activity)?” It just was not part of her default behavior. She learned that saying no doesn’t mean you think the person or project isn’t worthy, but rather that it doesn’t line up with your priorities or schedule. She got a lot of traction from learning some gracious ways of turning down invitations, and it became a simple, new habit.  Most people’s response to demands, requests, invitations, and items on the to-do list isn’t an automatic YES, but it might be close.  What’s your behavior on this front?
  2. You may feel guilty and selfish at first for guarding your down-time.” I would say it’s guaranteed you will feel guilty and selfish at first for safeguarding your own downtime. But just because you feel guilty about something doesn’t mean it’s wrong! You might consider re-labeling the feeling “uncomfortable” and reminding yourself that you are doing something different, so it’s understandable that it feels uncomfortable. Start small: practice saying no in relatively benign circumstances where the fallout and pushback is likely to be mild. Reap some benefits from this. It will give you the courage to be bolder in your guardianship of your time.
  3. You’ll soon find that you are a much nicer, more present, more productive person in each instance you do choose to say yes.” At a time in my life when I had begun to safeguard more time to myself some very big ways, I was able to be more present and understanding when I emailed one of my then-adolescent daughters about something we had been struggling over. She responded, “Who are you and what have you done with my mother?”

Guarding your downtime is likely to be a lifelong learning process, not a single learning episode — the good news is, you’ll have lots of time to practice.  As you look ahead to the New Year, consider turning up the volume on your stress management by protecting more of your downtime. You will thank yourself for it.

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28 May 2014

Build Downtime Into Your Vacation

When is a vacation not a vacation? The question may sound like a philosophical conundrum, but for a lot of us, the answer is easy. A vacation isn’t a vacation when it’s so over-scheduled that you don’t return to work feeling refreshed: you feel exhausted, or maybe even more stressed than before you left.

The problem is surprisingly common. One in 10 people say they “can never relax” when they take time off, according to the 2013 Vacation Deprivation survey* by the online travel company Expedia.com. And it’s a safe bet that a lot of those who can relax don’t do it as often as they’d like. Why else would so many people joke, after taking a week or two off,  “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation”?

So if you’re making summer plans, it’s a good idea to build some downtime into your time off, whether you hope to take a trip or stay home and tackle a big project like renovating a room. Research has found that making time for relaxation on vacation does more than help to ease pent-up job-related stresses. It can also promote physical and emotional well-being and, by allowing you to pull back from your day-to-day pressures and see them in a new light, foster creativity.

“Relaxing” doesn’t mean that you have to spend your entire vacation swinging in a hammock or drinking piña coladas on a beach at sunset. It just means making sure you don’t spend all of your time rushing from one activity to the next — that you have some open, unstructured time when you can engage in pursuits that will recharge you mentally and physically, whether you prefer creative pastimes like writing and painting or just taking leisurely walks in beautiful scenery.

An easy way to avoid over-scheduling your vacation is to build some down time into every day. If you plan a morning of shopping or sightseeing, allow for a restorative hour or two in the afternoon when you can read, write in a journal, or listen to music you’ve downloaded to a cell phone.  If you’ll be spending a day with a lot friends or relatives at a reunion, try to have a quiet evening at home or at your hotel that allows you to do yoga, go for a long walk after dinner, or take a relaxing bath. And don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself. As former marriage counselor Jackie Coleman and author John Coleman wrote on the HBR Blog Network:

“Just as it’s healthy to focus at work — ignoring Facebook and personal email — it’s essential to occasionally leave work behind and make space for life.”

Make sure your vacation is really a vacation.  You may be surprised by the traction a vacation with downtime can give you.  But you won’t see it til you’re back. 

*A hyperlink won’t work here because the survey results are a pdf, but you can see the survey if you paste this link into your browser: http://bit.ly/OneinTen.

 

 

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1 December 2013

Too Many Good Ideas

According to Wikipedia: ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas, where an idea is understood as a basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete, or abstract.

Are you an idea-generator?

Many people’s creativity flourishes in the form of generating an ongoing stream of ideas.  Even if only 10% of them are judged by the generator as “good” ideas, that 10% can be hundreds of ideas every week.  Ideas for new products, solutions for work bottlenecks, possible conversations to have with particular people, items to be added to the household list of things to buy, “someday maybe” ideas (thanks to David Allen for the “someday maybe” list), and on and on. 

While people who are NOT big idea-generators might envy their colleagues who seem to be idea-machines, (where do they GET all those ideas?), the idea-generators themselves can actually suffer as a result of this ability.

I once worked with an artist who got literally hundreds of ideas a day for new pieces to create, new projects to do with her students, ways to re-start old projects, and so forth.  Like many highly generative people, she was truly burdened by this endless stream because she loved many of the ideas she came up with and truly wanted to act on all of them.  (You don’t have to be an artist to be a heavy-hitter with ideation.  Many people have it.)

Part of her believed she should act on all of them and felt like a terrible slacker because she didn’t.  Of course another part of her also knew that she couldn’t possibly act on all of them.  There wasn’t enough time in a lifetime to act on all the ideas she came up with in a week.  But on some level, she felt she was continually letting herself down.  This actually became problematic and it was one of the things she addressed in coaching.

In real life, on this planet, idea people can’t act on every good idea that they have.  There just isn’t the time.  They don’t have the bandwidth: nobody does.  Even if they had a capable staff at their beck and call they couldn’t bring them all to fruition.  Unfortunate, but true. 

To have any peace of mind, generative people have to find a way to come to terms with this.  Here are some ways to do that: 

  1. Imagine a dialog with the idea in which you acknowledge the value and cleverness of the idea, thank it for appearing to you, let it know that you wish you could act on it, but that you just don’t have the bandwidth to do so, and that it’s not a reflection on the worthiness of the idea. Thank it for sharing itself with you and say good by.
  2. Cut a deal with yourself that you only have to implement one new idea a week.  Acknowledge yourself for making the deal, and acknowledge yourself again each week as you implement the plan.
  3. Feel gratitude for every idea as you receive it.
  4. When you realize you’re not going to act on one, let it go, knowing that the accumulated weight of all of them is dragging you down.

For more on this topic, take a look at:

Like many gifts, being a highly generative person has its cost. Keep that cost as low as possible by giving yourself permission to act on only a tiny fraction of the great ideas you come up with, preferably the ones that serve you best.  

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27 February 2013

Boundary-Setting for Good Girls

Revised 4/17/13.

Setting or strengthening boundaries is very difficult for a lot of people. In my experience, it’s most difficult for people who grew up as “good girls” in a context where goodness (and even worthiness itself!) was about helping others

This context is established at home, in school, at church and synagogue, and in activities.  For example, the Girl Scout promise includes the pledge “to help people at all times” (emphasis mine).  An impressionable girl might take this quite literally.

As good girls become adult women, this training can translate into a sense of obligation to say YES to every request that comes in.  It can also mean that when they see an opportunity to help someone, they don’t even see it as a choice — they just jump in.  I had a client whose neighbor mentioned she was having difficulty deciding among three bids for renovating a bathroom.  My client immediately jumped in and spent the evening at the neighbor’s house helping her decipher the proposals.  My client didn’t have the time to spare and suffered as a result.

This automatic focus on helping others is not a recipe for a good life. It’s also not a recipe for a life of selfless service, because it’s not sustainable.  Living by a policy of always saying yes and always jumping in to help leads directly to burnout. 

What’s missing is the counterbalance: the responsible and appropriately self-reflective voice that asks, “What can I afford to do in this situation, if anything? What do I want to do?”

Whether or not you were ever a good girl or a good boy, you may feel guilty saying no to requests for your time, money, focus, or any other resource. But feeling guilty doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. It often means you’re doing something out of your comfort zone, or something new.

Saying YES to every request or always jumping in to help doesn’t lead to your doing your best work, however you define it.  Whatever you choose to DO with your life, you can’t also DO everything else. That’s what setting boundaries is all about.

When you say “no” to collaborating on yet another project, or when you resist the temptation to put on your superwoman cape and dash in to help someone, you’re not  saying you don’t value those people or initiatives. Rather, you’re saying you currently have other priorities and you are fully deployed with those priorities. That boundary allows you to remain in service to your chosen priorities. Having weak boundaries is functionally equivalent to having no priorities. Anything and anyone can come in and get some of your time (or focus, money, staff, etc).

Many people who are disappointed with their results and accomplishments (or lack thereof) are actually suffering from weak boundaries. They don’t accomplish what they want because they don’t protect their ability to focus intensely on creating those results and accomplishments.  They were being “good” and “nice” and helping other people instead. But think about it — your priorities and commitments ALSO help other people, don’t they?

Making your best positive contribution in the world requires that you protect your ability to stay focused on what you are doing. Strong boundaries allow you to bring your best energy to those commitments, whatever they are.

You may be managing a department, doing oncology research, growing your own vegetables, running a university, doing marketing consulting, working in your town’s recycling center, or any of a million other kinds of valuable, productive work. Whatever short list of commitments are closest to your heart right now, you can’t give them your best shot if you aren’t also prepared to resist the infinite number of other “opportunities” competing for your time and attention.

Becoming skilled at this requires that you make your peace with missed opportunities. You can’t do everything right now. I’m sorry, but that’s just the truth. But with strong boundaries, you can do some things very, very effectively. And when you want, you can choose your next set of priorities.   For more on this topic, check out one of my blog posts from earlier this year.

What’s your best boundary-setting strategy?  Please share your experience in a comment below.

Short term coaching for strengthening boundaries is one of my specialties.  Contact me if you’re interested in exploring this.

 

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5 February 2013

Q & A on Boundary-Setting

One of the most prevalent barriers to peak effectiveness is poor boundaries.  Many of the smart professionals I have coached  experienced powerful benefits from becoming better at setting boundaries.   I think this very useful topic gets short shrift, so I decided to devote a couple of blog posts to it. 

Q & A On Boundary-Setting

Q: Why is boundary setting important?
A: Boundary setting is important for the same reason that having a budget is important: your time and energy are finite resources. If you give them away to all the people and projects knocking at your door, it’s likely you won’t have the time and energy for what’s most important to you. Boundary-setting is about protecting what’s most important to you, allowing you to live your priorities.

Q: What does boundary-setting behavior look like or sound like?
A: Essentially, boundary-setting is about saying no.  No, you are not available to do a leaflet drop next Saturday for your neighbor who’s running for School Committee.  No, it’s 10:30 pm and you’re not going to answer this email that just came in.  It also can look like turning off your phone at 9 pm, or not allowing your toddler to come into your bedroom during the night. Or it might be us saying to someone, “Yelling at me is not productive. Please don’t raise your voice with me.”

Q: What holds people back from setting boundaries?
A: What often holds people back is fear of the consequences. If I’m not available 24/7 then I won’t get ahead at work, people will get mad at me, I’ll miss timely information, I’ll lose my reputation as a committed professional, and so forth. If I tell my father-in-law to stop reading my mail when he’s at my house, he’ll be offended and complain to my husband, and then he’ll be upset with me.  But . . . it turns out there are negative consequences for NOT setting boundaries: being available 24/7 leads to burnout. Pleasing everyone else before taking care of yourself turns into a life as a doormat. 

Q: I want to set boundaries with X (my boss, my mother, etc) but I don’t know how. What are some tips?
A: Use language that’s neutral and clear. By neutral, I mean it doesn’t have an emotional charge to it, and it doesn’t make you or the other person wrong. By clear, I mean keep it simple so the other person gets it.

  • Not neutral: I’m completely overwhelmed and dropping balls already, so I don’t really see how I could possibly take on another assignment (this paints you as ineffective), and I have to say you really do know how to pour it on (this make the other person wrong).
  • More neutral: I don’t have the bandwidth to take on another assignment without missing deadlines on projects already on my plate, so I have to say no to this. Sorry.
  • Not clear: Gee, I don’t know about getting it to you by Wednesday; I’m facilitating a big meeting that day and will have a ton of prep to do leading up to it.
  • Clearer: Sorry, I can’t deliver by Wednesday – could Friday work?

Q: What happens when you set boundaries and the other party doesn’t respect the boundary — how do you handle that?
A: When you set or strengthen a boundary, there will be pushback. Other people like things the way they are, with you always saying yes! Like setting a curfew for a teenager, don’t expect the other person to be happy about it. Generally, what’s called for is for you to calmly and clearly restate the boundary, and negotiate some kind of agreement about it. You may need to go through several iterations of this until the person gets that you really mean this. Expect pushback. Be prepared for it.

Q: I always worry that when I set boundaries I might be offending the other party. Any tips?
A: I worry that when you don’t set boundaries you harm yourself. Why should you harm yourself in order to appease someone else? That’s the concept here. And to your point, it can be useful to express your concern while taking the stand: “Mom, I hope this doesn’t offend you because that’s not at all where I’m coming from, but it just doesn’t work for me to come home for Sunday dinner every week.” “Nate, I’d love to help you out on this, and please don’t take this personally, but I am really flat out right now and can’t jump in to help you out.” “Joe, thanks so much for inviting me, but I have other plans that night.”

Q: What else?

A: I’d add these two points.

  • There are times and situations where you really don’t have a choice. Know what they are and act accordingly. If you’re an emergency room doctor, you can’t say no to the heart attack patient who just arrived. Many people’s reality at work these days is that they really can’t say no to any assignment that gets handed to them. All the more reason to strengthen boundaries outside of work!
  • It’s often possible to have a conversationrather than to just say yes to an assignment or continue with a pattern that no longer works for you. You can sometimes “educate” and negotiate with the others involved. Here are some examples of how that might sound:
    • “I’m confused. I’ve been working like mad on the X and Y projects which I thought were the priority. You’re asking me to get this other report out by the end of next week, which would mean dropping X and Y completely til this is done. Is that what you want me to do?”
    • “To run with this project, I’ll need to jump off Cate’s project for a while. Would you talk to her and let her know you’re asking me to do to this and that I’ll need to drop off her team for a while?”
    • [To adult kids:] “You know, kids, I’ve realized that making Thanksgiving dinner for all 25 of us is too much for me. I’ve decided to let each of you bring one of the menu items. I don’t care if you make it from scratch, get take-out, or what.  I’m asking each of you to let me know what you’d like to bring, and if I don’t hear from you, I’ll assign you something. I’m still happy to host it here, but it would make a huge difference to me if you would take responsibility for some parts of the meal. ”

Boundary-setting skills are learnable. Many people learn these skills as adults. If you would like to become a more effective boundary-setter, consider some short term coaching. Here’s how it starts: contact me for an initial conversation about this and then you can decide what you want to do, if anything. When you email me, tell me some times you could schedule this initial meeting, and I’ll get back to you about which will work for me.

What works for you?  What have you learned about this that might be useful to someone else?  Please leave a comment! 

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24 September 2012

Boundary-Setting: A Work-Life Balance Necessity

Thanks to technology, every dedicated and successful professional can now be on call 24/7. You can respond to emails from the pediatrician’s waiting room. You can participate in an overseas business meeting in the middle of the night from your home. Advanced degrees can be attained at night and on the weekends during “off” hours.

This level of ultra-accessibility reflects amazing technological progress. But if you aren’t actively setting boundaries between your work life and your personal life, this progress may be causing you to suffer.   If your relationships with the people you live with are suffering or if you are feeling the beginnings of job burn-out, it may be time to strengthen your boundaries, which can lead to a powerful course correction in your work-life balance.

Think about when, where, and why you are willing to be interrupted in your personal life for a work-related issue. Make a list of the kinds of urgent work issues that may need your immediate attention. Decide if you can limit your off-hours interaction with your job to those specific situations.  Decide on the hours you will be accessible.  Could 7 am to 9 pm be enough?  If so, then make those your time boundaries and only respond between those times.  If you are unwilling to take business calls after 9 pm, shut your cell phone off.  If you won’t answer emails after hours, don’t read emails after hours, either.

You’ll need to make a few more rules for yourself that help you respect your own boundaries.  When you are on the job, really work the whole time you’re there, or the whole time you’re “on.”  When it’s time to be with your family — be there.  When you’re taking time for yourself, take it with as little guilt as you can manage.  Being fully present (or as fully as you can manage) wherever and whenever you can not only makes your time spent in that arena more effective and satisfying, it can also free you from the personal cost of that nagging voice telling you you really should be somewhere else.

Once you have drawn some clear boundaries between the various domains of your life, consider how best to communicate them to your coworkers and possibly the people in your personal life as well.  They may push back a bit, but part of creating and maintaining good boundaries is standing your ground.

If you want to move forward along these lines and know you could use some individual assistance, please contact me for an initial coaching consultation at no charge.  You  will get a sense of whether you want to work with me, and you can ask whatever questions you have. The skills involved in creating , maintaining, and nurturing healthy boundaries are all very learnable.  Most of us just don’t learn them in school or from our original families!

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