Challenging Work-Life Boundaries

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BetterUp Studios
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5 min

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Are you the type of person who says "yes" every time someone asks for a favor? You might be in high demand, but you're also probably under a lot of stress. Learning to say "no" on occasion can bring you some mental relief and help you set more reasonable boundaries.

Communication strategy coach Sara McCord offers these tips on how to be both polite and assertive at work, whether with your boss, coworkers, employees, or clients.

With Your Boss

Your boss wants you to stay late to help with a project. The job is doable, but you already told your kids you’d be home in time to take them to the park. Now what?

  • Don't simply say "no" or remind her of all the times you've put in extra work.
  • Do thank your boss for the opportunity and mention when you’ll be free to work on new assignments. After all, you want the boss to keep you in mind for future work. Explain what you’re currently prioritizing so that if your boss wants to re-prioritize your workload, she can.

With Your Coworkers

After you turn down your boss's offer, your coworker comes over to your desk to ask you for help. Saying "no" to a coworker might be less intimidating, but you still want to be respectful.

  • Don't use a dishonest excuse to avoid the situation.
  • Do be sincere about why you can't help. Maybe you could say, “I’d like to help, but I already promised my kids I’d be home by seven.”
  • Do consider offering some other form of help that works better for your schedule.

With Your Employees

Employees aren't the only ones who feel pressured to say "yes." Even if you're the boss, your employees might ask too much of you. Maybe someone wants a raise when the business is facing financial problems. Maybe they’re coming to you with too many ideas and too few results. Try this:

  • Don't ignore your employees or be dismissive. Make it your goal to say “no” without hurting morale.
  • Do make it clear that you appreciate their input, and then explain why you have to decline their request. Maybe you could say, “Thanks for sharing that idea. I really appreciate it, but I don’t think the budget allows for it right now.”

With Clients

If you're a freelancer or you run a small business, you want to impress your clients and keep them coming back to you. Turning down their demands might feel risky. Just keep in mind that agreeing to the wrong request can hurt your relationship with them as well. When saying “no” to a client:

  • Don't take your client for granted by talking down to them or giving a curt reply.
  • Do listen carefully to the client and try to come to an arrangement that builds trust and still fits your schedule. For example, instead of agreeing to something you're uncomfortable with, refer your client to another freelancer or business that can get the job done. You might lose out on some business, but you'll keep the client's trust.

Saying "yes" all the time can lead to stress. But saying "no" all the time might lead people to assume you’re not a team player. Be helpful, but also be honest and respectful when you need to set boundaries.

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