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How to Not Become the Office Doormat

At the office, being genuinely helpful can quickly turn into you being a doormat if you don’t set limits and guidelines for how you should be treated during office hours. Just because your boss signs your paychecks doesn’t mean that you are never allowed to say “no.” Healthy relationships of all kinds require good boundaries and the ability of both sides to decline an offer. While saying no at the office can be tricky, you can communicate your point without sounding harsh and unyielding to those who request your help.

Set Your Own Terms

When you’re asked to deliver an absurd amount of work in an unreasonable amount of time, think seriously about your limits. Remember that “yes” and “no” are not your only two options, and that you have the power to negotiate some terms of your own.

Bad Response: “There is no way I can get that order completed by next Wednesday.”

Good Response: “I would love to be able to get it done by Wednesday, but I don’t think that’s enough time. Why don’t I get half the order to you by Wednesday, and I’ll have the rest completed by Friday.”

Now you’ve set your own terms and also offered assistance on something that is both time sensitive and crucial. You are now set up to look even better when the order is complete.

Consider the Asker

Obviously, you’ll want to talk differently to your boss than you do to your clients or to those you supervise. If you’re asked to do something you won’t be able to complete, try using some of the following ideas to get the conversation where you want it.

To Your Boss: “I’d love to make that work, but I might need your assistance with…..”
To Your Clients: “I’m sorry I won’t be able to do that, but I could help you with….”
To Your Colleagues: “Of course I can help you, but I’ll need your help with a few things….”
To Your Employees: “I’m sorry; I don’t think that will work, but I appreciate your effort.”

Accept Negatives Graciously

Likewise, you must know how to graciously accept a negative response from another person when you ask for help. Try a little empathy to smooth your way, and then try changing the request to something that is workable. For example, try the following:

• I understand, so is there any way I can make this request more manageable for you?
• What can I provide you with to make this work?
• What if we changed things in the following ways, would it be doable then?

It’s All in the Approach

So much of the tone of a conversation is set within the first few seconds. Think of how differently you react to different approaches, and consider these feelings each time you ask for something sensitive.

Similarly, the way you tell someone “no” can be harsh and hurtful, or helpful and understandable. Avoid absolutes and look for solutions that will work for both parties. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you’re in this boat together, and working with one another for a solution will benefit both sides of the aisle.