We know from our recent research that one of the key roadblocks standing in the way of women’s career progression is an inability to say no or set boundaries. 49% of the 1200 women we surveyed told us they struggled with this, 55% of women said they took on more work than they should and 45% identified as people pleasers.
It’s clear from these statistics that many women need support with saying ‘no’ and advocating for themselves. Very often, saying no is just the first step. Even for women who feel comfortable saying no and setting boundaries, the discomfort usually arises when someone pushes back on that no or disrespects the boundary.
And what do you do when the person pushing back is your manager?
Dealing with a manager who consistently ignores your boundaries can be challenging. However, rather than slipping into conflict avoidant or people-pleasing behaviours, it’s crucial to advocate for yourself and establish a healthy working relationship.
Here Are 10 Practical Tips to Help You Push Back Assertively and Set Boundaries With Your Manager:
1. Clearly Define Your Priorities:
Before engaging in a conversation with your manager, take the time to define your priorities. Understand which tasks align with your goals and those that stretch you beyond your capacity. By clearly identifying your priorities, you’ll have a solid foundation to support your pushback.
2. Be Prepared and Confident:
Approach the conversation with your manager confidently and be prepared to articulate your reasons for pushing back. Anticipate potential counterarguments or objections and be ready to provide logical explanations for your decision. Confidence and preparation will enhance your credibility and increase the likelihood of your manager taking your concerns seriously.
3. Use “I” Statements:
When expressing your position, use “I” statements to convey your perspective without sounding confrontational. For example, say, “I feel overwhelmed with my current workload, and taking on additional tasks would compromise the quality of my work,” rather than placing blame or accusing your manager of overloading you.
4. Offer Alternatives:
Instead of simply saying ‘no,’ setting boundaries with your manager is about providing alternatives that accommodate both your limitations and the needs of the team or organisation. Propose alternative solutions, such as reallocating resources, adjusting deadlines, or seeking additional support, to demonstrate your commitment to finding a mutually beneficial resolution.
5. Provide Evidence and Data:
Support your pushback with factual evidence and data whenever possible. Present quantifiable information that highlights your current workload, time constraints, or the potential impact on other projects. This data-driven approach adds credibility to your position and makes it harder for your manager to dismiss your concerns.
6. Seek Support from Colleagues:
If multiple team members are facing similar challenges, consider discussing the issue collectively with your manager. Presenting a united front can reinforce the importance of your concerns and demonstrate that the workload issue is not isolated to one individual. Strength in numbers can lead to a more impactful conversation.
7. Document and Track Your Workload:
Maintain a record of your tasks, deadlines, and time spent on each project. This documentation can serve as evidence of your workload when engaging in discussions with your manager. It also helps you visualise your capacity and identify areas where adjustments or delegations are necessary.
8. Request a One-on-One Meeting:
If your manager consistently disregards your pushback in group settings, request a private one-on-one meeting. This dedicated time allows for a more focused conversation where you can express your concerns without interruptions or distractions. A personal setting may encourage a more empathetic response from your manager.
9. Know Your Rights and Company Policies:
Familiarise yourself with your rights and company policies regarding workload distribution, overtime, and work-life balance. Understanding these guidelines can strengthen your position and provide you with a basis for asserting your boundaries. Refer to specific policies or agreements that support your pushback, if applicable.
10. Consider Escalation Options:
If your manager continues to ignore your pushback and persistently overloads you with work, it may be necessary to consider escalation options within your organisation. This could involve reaching out to Human Resources, seeking guidance from a mentor or trusted senior colleague, or exploring internal channels for conflict resolution. Be mindful of the potential consequences and use these options as a last resort. But if your wellbeing and mental health is being challenged because of your unmanageable workload or insistent manager, then you absolutely must take care of yourself and seek the support you need.
Tips for Leaders: Supporting Women to Set Boundaries:
1. Create a Culture of Open Communication: Encourage open dialogues where employees, especially women, feel comfortable discussing their workloads and boundaries. Foster an environment where setting boundaries is seen as a sign of self-awareness and effective time management.
2. Lead by Example: Demonstrate healthy boundary-setting behaviours as a leader. Share your experiences of setting limits, saying no, and maintaining work-life balance to inspire and normalise these actions within the team.
3. Promote Training and Development: Offer training or women’s leadership development programs such as the Women Rising program, which teaches assertive communication, managing up and setting boundaries. Equip women with the skills and confidence they need to navigate difficult conversations and prioritise effectively.
4. Recognise and Reward Boundary Management: Acknowledge and celebrate employees who excel at setting boundaries and maintaining their wellbeing. Incorporate boundary management into performance evaluations to emphasise its importance and value within the organisation.
5. Don’t overload your people with unmanageable workload: It is a critical responsibility of every manager to make sure that your team is not overloaded with more work than they can handle. Ensure you have a detailed understanding of the tasks for every person you lead, and take steps to realign the work when needed so that noone is facing undue pressure.