You can still be kind and helpful without letting people take advantage of you or being a pushover — it just requires boundaries.
“There is a difference between taking 15 minutes to help a coworker with a new program and completing their task for them,” Hallie Crawford, career coach and founder of Create Your Path.
Pong added that it might take some time to re-establish healthy boundaries if you’ve let them go completely, and it’s OK to take small steps. One easy way to get started is to write down the changes you want to make in your behaviour at work.
“Set aside some time, sit down with pen and paper or your computer, and write down what you are no longer willing to tolerate,” Pong said. “Then, put them in order of priority, from the thing you want to stop doing immediately to those you can bear doing for a bit longer.”
Once you’ve set your boundaries, practice saying “no.”
After you’ve established what you’ll no longer put up with, you need to learn how to say “no” — politely yet firmly.
Since it may not come naturally to you, Pong recommends preparing and practising ahead of time.
“Think of a few firms, but polite, ways to say no, and write them down,” she said. “Here are a few to get you started: ‘Unfortunately, I can’t take that on anymore,’ ‘My schedule is too full.’ Or, keep it short and sweet: ‘No, I’m unable to.'”
Pong suggested reading these statements to yourself daily, so that next time someone asks you to something above and beyond what you should be doing, you can set that boundary.
Practice asserting yourself in your personal life.
You can start advocating yourself with people you trust in your personal life, such as your family and friends.
“It’s OK to start small to build up your skills in this area,” Pong said.
Start by sharing with a friend or family member that you don’t like something that they do like, she recommended.
“Again, there is nothing wrong with having your own opinion about something or with voicing it,” she said. “Nothing about that is inherently mean or cruel or inappropriate. Simply saying, ‘Actually, I don’t like bowling, I’d rather go to the movies,’ in a kind tone of voice shouldn’t lead to conflict or drama (and if it does, that’s a big red flag).”
When you’re more comfortable, apply these skills to your professional life.
After some practice, try it at work.
“Offer your opinions more freely, especially when they are different from others,” Pong said. “Be a little bolder: learn what you can do without asking for permission first and then do those things without asking for permission.”
Just remember that you can stand up for yourself and assert yourself in your career and still be nice.