In her presentation at the 2023 Community Rebellion Conference, Jamie Langskov, MBA, spoke at length about the importance of saying “no.” She also talked to attendees about how they can feel more comfortable saying “no” and determine when that’s the correct answer to a particular question.
Community builders are givers
Jamie began her presentation by asking the audience members why they became community builders and managers, noting that many people in the field tend to be “givers”. Being a “giver” typically means having unmatched empathy, gaining satisfaction from helping others, and achieving fulfillment from their role in others’ successes.
On the flip side, there are also some downsides to being a giver. Givers tend to experience negative feelings from saying “no” and not putting themselves out there. Examples of these negative feelings include guilt, shame, obligation, and fear -- fear of loneliness, disappointing others, being thought of as selfish, and humiliation.
Jamie empathized with the fact that she has experienced all of these feelings, the positive and the negative, at various points in her career. She also pointed out one of the most pivotal moments in her career came from telling her boss “no.”
Although she was afraid to do so at first, Jamie turned down a chance to lead an initiative that wasn’t going to be a growth opportunity for her. She did not get fired or face any negative consequences for saying “no.” Instead, she got promoted.
Why do we struggle to set boundaries?
After getting attendees to think about their community manager job description and how their hesitance to say “no” might affect them, Jamie launched into the first of three learning objectives for her presentation: Why do people struggle to set boundaries?
One reason why boundary-setting can be tricky is because most people naturally want to feel like they belong. They also worry saying “no” will interfere with their ability to be part of a community. To quote Brene Brown, “Finding a sense of belonging in close social relationships and with our community is essential to well-being.”
Human Giver Syndrome
Jamie then described a condition known as “Human Giver Syndrome,” a term coined by Amelia and Emily Nagoski, the authors of the book Burnout. This condition is characterized by a tendency to put your own needs aside and exist to fulfill the needs of others.
The problem, Jamie clarified, is not with wanting to be of service. The problem comes from not taking care of yourself, which in turn prevents you from serving others.
Introversion and Boundary Setting
To illustrate this point further, Jamie talked about introverts -- many community leaders in the audience identified themselves as such -- and their need to recharge alone.
She acknowledged that it’s often easy for introverts to worry that their need to recharge will affect their job performance. In reality, though, taking time for yourself allows you to do your job better since you’re more energized, focused, and ready to support your community.
How to Set Meaningful Boundaries
After explaining the reasons why people struggle with boundary setting, Jamie moved on to the second learning objective: How to set meaningful boundaries.
Types of Boundaries
There are three types of boundaries:
- Porous: Characterized by oversharing and relying heavily on others for validation.
- Rigid: Can be too firm and are characterized by a refusal to help in any situation.
- Healthy: A middle ground where a person can support and serve others without sacrificing their own wellbeing in the process.
Clarity Saves Relationships
One of the most important factors to keep in mind when setting healthy boundaries is clarity. “Clarity saves relationships.”
When you’re clear with others about your needs and boundaries, it’s easier for them to accommodate. People also tend to respond better to boundary setting when others are clear from the beginning.
Be Brave and Kind
Jamie also encouraged attendees to be brave when setting boundaries and highlighted the following factors that can help them achieve this goal:
- Identify your purpose
- Define your boundaries
- Set clear expectations
- Be kind but firm
Regarding the last point, Jamie reminded the audience that kindness is different from being nice. Kindness involves being concise, clear, and firm rather than bending over backward to make others happy.
Another way to remember how to set boundaries is using a tool Jamie calls the North Star for boundary setting. She explained that boundaries should be carefully Defined, Documented, Communicated, and Defended.
When to Say No
Jamie’s presentation ends with a discussion about when to hold your boundaries and say no, opening this portion of the presentation with a quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Setting and holding boundaries is a form of advocacy; advocacy requires risk and vulnerability, regardless of whether you are advocating for yourself or someone else. Advocacy can be both empowering and uncomfortable.”
Jamie acknowledged the difficulty of saying no and holding boundaries. She also pointed out that it can be risky. However, she reminded attendees that if something is important to them, it might be worth the risk. In other words, if it’s important to you to say “no” to something so you have room in your schedule for something else, it’s worthwhile to hold your boundary.
Everyone’s boundaries are different; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when to turn someone down. When deciding when to say no, Jamie encouraged attendees to assess their own personal level of risk and the amount of vulnerability they’re willing to show. The result of these assessments will help you determine whether you should say “yes” or “no.”
Boundary-Setting Tips and Hard Truths
Jamie summarized her tips for setting boundaries with the following reminders:
- If it feels wrong, it probably is
- Stay true to your North Star
- Reflect on your priorities
- Assess your risk tolerance
- Check in with your trust circle (the people who can help you reality-check a particular situation)
- You’re allowed to change your mind (even if you’ve said “yes” previously)
- Trust your intuition
She also shared some “hard truths” that everyone should keep in mind when setting boundaries:
- You don’t owe anyone your well-being
- You can’t pour from an empty cup
- Don’t light yourself on fire to keep someone else warm
November 16, 2023
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