Why do you have such a hard time saying No at work?!? It’s OK. You are nowhere close to alone!
We all have patterns that we (usually unintentionally) fall back on when we are having trouble setting boundaries and saying No to others.
Last week, I shared what both Workaholic and Caretaker boundary patterns look like in the nonprofit communications profession (the two that I constantly battle in myself).
My adaptations of these patterns to the nonprofit comms and marketing world are based on Transform Your Boundaries by Sarri Gilman. I completed Sarri’s Train the Trainer program. She developed this framework through her work as a psychotherapist, but she also has nonprofit experience.
While Workaholic and Caretaker may be the two most prevalent patterns in our work, we as nonprofit communicators certainly put the other five patterns to work too! So let’s take a look at them generally and how they look in our work specifically.
What “Lover” Communication Directors Say
In the Lover pattern, you don’t set boundaries because you are afraid people won’t love you — or in the case of work, like you or think you are a team player — if you do. This is classic people-pleasing which we know from our research is a major battle for nonprofit communicators.
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Lover pattern might say . . .
- “I don’t want them to get mad at me, or be grumpy with me, or question my loyalty.”
- “Other people have lost their jobs for less, so I need to stay on their good side.”
- “But I want them to like me and do favors for me when I ask.”
- “We’ve worked together so long that I can’t say no to them anymore.”
- “That’s a great idea!” (to every idea)
What “Sacrificier” Communication Directors Say
In the Sacrificer pattern, you don’t set boundaries because your belief systems tells you that you should say Yes rather than No. This could be a religious or spiritual belief, but in our work world, it’s also what drives nonprofit martyr syndrome. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice yourself for the cause, why are you even working at a nonprofit?
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Sacrificer pattern might say . . .
- “This simply has to get done for the good of the cause.”
- “It’s such important work, surely I can give just a little bit more time to it.”
- “Everything is urgent because there is so much pain and strife in the world and we need to do everything humanly possible to help.”
- “I don’t have a choice. This is what is required of me.”
- “No matter how hard I work, I still feel guilty when I don’t get it all done.”
- “Passion for the work trumps everything.”
What “Numb-er” Communication Directors Say
In the Numb-er pattern, you avoid setting boundaries by shutting down. This can look like addictive behaviors (drug abuse, over-spending, over-eating), but it can also take the form of unnecessary workplace behaviors that “look” like work. Hmmm, did you really need to spend that much time scrolling on social media today? Were all those videos really important research?
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Numb-er pattern might say . . .
- “I’m going to zone out on videos or social media and pretend that it’s research or listening to our audience.”
- “I’m going to work on all of these relatively easy things instead.”
- “I task switch all day to feel busy rather than getting the hard things dealt with.”
- “I work on inbox zero all day because it feels good even though it’s really meaningless.”
- “I crack jokes and use humor to deflect from what really needs to be discussed.”
What “Protector” Communication Directors Say
In the Protector pattern, you don’t set boundaries because you’d rather shield others from the pain or truth the boundary would require. You lie to yourself about it just being easier to protect that person — whether they are someone you work for or with or someone who reports for you.
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Protector pattern might say . . .
- “I don’t want to ask a lot of questions about this and waste their time, even though I need this creative brief completed.”
- “I want to protect my staff member from being embarrassed because I know they can’t do this task well, so I will do it instead.”
- “A lot of these folks I work with are hourly and I am salaried, so I need to suck it up.”
- “I really don’t want my boss to worry about this, so I will deal with it.”
- “We will do all of these last-minute requests from the executive director, but don’t let them know how late we had to stay every night this week.”
- “It will get better next week/month/year — no need to rock the boat now.”
- “I make excuses for others to cover for why something doesn’t make sense, or is late, or has typos.”
What “Isolater” Communication Directors Say
Finally, we have the Isolaters. In the Isolater pattern, rather than set a boundary, you physically or emotionally remove yourself from the situation. You choose loneliness and isolation over dealing with people who might cross the boundary.
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Isolater pattern might say . . .
- “This takes too much energy to train others to do, so I will do it myself.”
- “No one else can help me.”
- “I’m the only one who can do it.”
- “I’d rather just work at home and not worry about this until I have to.”
- “I can’t get involved in all the drama.”
- “This is not my problem.” (when it kind of is)
If you recognize these patterns in yourself, the first step is to reflect a bit on why you might be using this pattern as a way to avoid setting or enforcing a boundary. This is deep, introspective work. But it’s important to think through if you want to change your own behavior around boundaries.
Here are some additional helpful posts:
Thanks to all of the participants in the last three years of our Jump Starter workshop on setting boundaries. The examples here are from the collaborative and collective work of these three groups of communications professionals.