Recently we posted about the importance of boundary-setting within work to support better work-life balance, mitigate sources of stress and protect against mental health issues such as stress and burnout. Saying no was highlighted as an effective boundary-setting behaviour, but one that many are challenged to do.
As an initial first step to overcome this challenge, and the often-automatic response of saying yes to requests of you in the workplace, we suggested making a small change in your behaviour: when a request is made of you practise responding with “I will consider it and get back to you”. We hope you that you have had a go at this strategy and found it beneficial.
Still finding it difficult to change your behaviour? Find the thought of saying no anxiety provoking?
Tip: Try setting up a behavioural experiment to ‘test-out’ your fears and negative assumptions about saying no.
The purpose of a behavioural experiment is to open us up to new information to develop more balanced and realistic thoughts or predictions about a situation, and in turn reduce distress and avoidance of the situation.
First: Identify your unhelpful thoughts/predictions: When you think of saying no to a request of you within the workplace, what do you predict will happen? What thoughts arise to act as barriers? What reasons does your mind give you for avoiding saying no?
Here are some examples:-
- I’ll let them down-
- If I don’t do it, it’ll impact on them/mean more work for them
- They’ll be upset with me
- They’ll thinking less of me, that I’m not committed or capable
These are the assumptions, or predictions, about how the situation will turn out that you will ‘test’ in your experiment. You may wish to rate how strongly you believe your prediction/s: 0% = do not believe at all, to 100% = believe it completely.
Next: Write down some alternative predictions – other possible outcomes, perhaps neutral or more favourable outcomes, and rate your level of belief in these.
Then: Design your experiment – Pick a low-level challenge situation for the experiment.
Identify a situation of saying no that creates a low-level of challenge or anxiety – say, a 3 on a scale of 0 (nil discomfort) – 10 (most challenging/intense level of anxiety ever). This might be a scenario within the workplace, or you may wish to start with a challenge in your personal life if the same unhelpful thoughts arise. It is best to choose a situation that will likely occur/occurs on a regular basis.
To devise a low-level challenge, consider:-
- who it would be least difficult to say no to, e.g. a peer, non-senior colleague, a trusted loved one, and
- a request where the ‘cost’ of saying no is low/perceived to be low e.g. may have little impact on the person making the request, the relationship/team/workplace, and/or yourself.
Be specific: where possible, specify exactly what you will do to test your prediction/s, who you will do it with, type of request etc.e.g Next time my team leader asks if I will be joining the weekly, non-compulsory, supervision meeting I will decline.
Evaluate: Once you have competed the experiment, reflect on the outcomes. What actually happened? Were my predictions supported or not supported? What evidence do I have for or against my predictions? What did I learn? And re-rate your level of belief in your predictions.
Taking a scientific approach to testing out fears around saying no, can reduce some uncertainty and assist us in approaching the challenge. It is always important to start small and at a place that is within your coping resources. Once you have completed the experiment, try repeating it with a similar level task to consolidate your learning or take the next step of a slightly more challenging scenario.
If you feel you need assistance in setting healthier boundaries and being assertive within your work, you may benefit from the guidance and support of a psychologist. Contact us at MINDCHECK HP for further information about our services or to make an appointment: 07 3847 8094, firstname.lastname@example.org.