Setting boundaries is all about saying No, which we know is very hard for nonprofit communication staff! But saying no is the essence of strategic decision-making, so it’s incredibly important.
But what you may not realize is that when you are having trouble saying no, you are actually having trouble setting a boundary. Without good workplace boundaries, you are likely left feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, uncomfortable, resentful, or guilty.
I just finished our annual “Setting Boundaries” Jump Starter workshop with our All-Access Pass Holders. My workshop is adapted from the materials and training called Transform Your Boundaries by Sarri Gilman. I completed Sarri’s Train the Trainer program. She developed this framework through her work as a psychotherapist, but she also has nonprofit experience. I’ve found her materials incredibly helpful in coaching communications staff.
So today, I want to share with you what two of Sarri’s seven patterns look like in our work: Being a workaholic and being a caretaker. I’ll share the other patterns in additional blog posts.
You can think of these patterns as ways that we cope, or as Sarri says, the patterns that keep you from knowing your inner truth. That inner truth is knowing what is a YES for you and what is a NO for you. That inner truth is the foundation for setting your boundaries.
It’s important to recognize your own patterns that obscure that truth. When you do, you can begin to explore what’s stopping you from setting or holding a boundary. And that’s what will ultimately lead to a much healthier workload and work culture for you.
What “Workaholic” Communication Directors Say
In the Workhalic pattern, you don’t set boundaries because you are too busy doing all the important things, and everything is important. You may also be a perfectionist who needs everything just so, further increasing your workload.
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Workaholic pattern might say . . .
- “I’m basically the ambassador for my agency, so I have to do it all.”
- “Everything is important, so I should say yes to everything, no matter its impact on my well-being.”
- “It needs to be perfect, to my standard of perfection.”
- “It needs to get done now, and can’t wait til tomorrow, next week, next month…”
- “I’m always attached to a laptop or device, even during nights, weekends, and holidays so I can keep up with everything and not miss a thing.”
- “I feel the need to respond to all emails ASAP.”
- “I wear a ton of hats that don’t necessarily align with my job description”
- “My worth is defined by how much I can accomplish.”
- “It’s always busy season.”
- “I can avoid a lot of hassle if I just do it myself.”
Any of that sound familiar to you?
What “Caretaker” Communication Directors Say
With the Caretaker pattern, you don’t set boundaries because you feel obligated to help solve other people’s problems and to take care of things for them.
Here’s what nonprofit communications staff who struggle with the Caretaker pattern might say . . .
- “It’s a gray area about whose job it is, and having that conversation would be hard, so my team members absorb that work for the sake of the greater good to get the job done.”
- “Everyone comes to me asking for help, asking me all these questions, complaining about things. So naturally, I want to help!”
- “As a manager, I feel like if my staff drop the ball, it’s ultimately my fault. So really, I can’t truly give others responsibility for anything.”
- “It’s just easier to concede my own time than to make it a big deal for someone else.”
- “I want to insulate my staff from difficult situations, so that means I get embroiled in a lot of projects or conflicts.”
- “I keep thinking that other people’s needs are more important than mine, and that means I should just do what they ask.”
- “If I don’t do this work, I am preventing someone else from moving forward with other important projects”
- “I always want to jump in to help, especially when there are tight deadlines or I know someone is struggling.”
- “Let me do this for you because your plate is too full.”
- “I will deal with it so I can shield my staff from negative feedback.”
- “Our staff are busy helping our clients directly, so I must take some work off their plate.”
How about these? Do they sound familiar to you?
If you recognize these patterns in yourself, the first step is to reflect a bit on why you might be using this pattern as a way to avoid setting or enforcing a boundary. This is deep, introspective work. But it’s important to think through if you want to change your own behavior around boundaries.
Here are some additional helpful posts:
Setting Boundaries to You Don’t Get Doormatted
They Have to Clearly See Your Boundaries to Honor Them
How to Establish Boundaries at Your Nonprofit Job
Boundaries You Need to Be Productive
Thanks to all of the participants in the last three years of this Jump Starter workshop. The examples here are from the collaborative and collective work of these three groups of communications professionals.