How to Stop Being a Pushover at Work

You’re great at your job, and everyone knows it. That’s why people sometimes — or, regularly — ask you to chip in on additional projects. While you’ve already got a lot on your plate, you find it hard to say no.

As great as it is to be known as the hardworking, dependable employee you are, you don’t have to be a pushover to build that reputation. It’s all about striking a balance. The following six tips will help you stand up for yourself while still doing the best you can on the job.

1. Prioritize

Before you can decide how you’re overcommitting yourself at work, you’ll need to know what you want. What are your goals for this quarter, six months or year? As a rule of thumb, the things you say “yes” to should be tasks that push you toward the accomplishments you envision.

Write out all your to-dos before comparing them to your goals. For example, you might’ve committed to a project to diversify your knowledge and daily routine, but if it’s not serving your end game, then it’s worth passing onto someone else or putting on the back burner.

2. Don’t Apologize

One of the biggest mistakes pushovers make is apologizing when they have to say “no.” This implies you’re at fault, although saying yes would be a favor for the person asking for your time. All you have to do is turn the task down and offer a short explanation as to why you’re unavailable. You should never be sorry for focusing on your responsibilities first.

3. Identify the Root of the Problem

Every pushover has a purpose — you wouldn’t be saying yes to everything if there wasn’t a reason deep down inside. Do a little bit of reflection to pinpoint why you keep agreeing to do more when it’s not actually what you want.

For most, the inclination comes from an inherent desire to serve others. If you’re dropping what you’re doing to answer phone calls or emails from your colleagues and higher-ups, that’s likely the reason you’re always swamped. You might crave a promotion or recognition or more responsibility, and by saying “yes” to everything, you’re trying to make that goal a reality.

However, there are other ways to make those dreams come true — it’s certainly smart to go above the call of duty, but sacrificing all of your time and energy isn’t the right balance. In fact, it’s more likely that it will backfire by not allowing you to focus on your most important tasks.

4. Come Up With an Alternative

Sometimes, a question doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. With a bit of quick thinking on your part, you could avoid the turmoil of having to decide between yes and no by coming up with a new course of action. Plus, being honest with your coworkers is a great way to forge better relationships.

For example, if you’re asked to prepare an unexpected presentation for tomorrow’s meeting, you don’t have to say yes and stay up all night until it’s done. Instead, tell your boss you’ll get to work as soon as you’re told, but that you have to leave the office by a specific time due to responsibilities at home. Then, you can finish the job or send it onto another team member who can finish up your slides, for example. Or, you can come in before the meeting to put the finishing touches on it.

By following this strategy, you don’t have to feel as though you’ve said no to your boss. But, you still avoid adding more to your plate and preventing yourself from getting home at a decent hour.

5. Ask for Help

How have you gotten so many new responsibilities? It’s because those around you have asked you to help. You can use the same tactics if you find yourself overwhelmed.

Instead, try delegating some of your tasks to colleagues you know aren’t as busy as you. You can reflect on those goals you’ve set before — try to delegate any to-dos that don’t fall in line with the benchmarks you’ve set for yourself.

6. Be Brave

Finally, once you’ve made the conscious decision to be more assertive, it’s up to you to make it happen. But saying “no” and prioritizing for the sake of your quality of work — and peace of mind — are all responsibilities that fall on you. This is especially true if the proposed to-do is something out of your area of expertise or unrelated to your goals. Find the courage to turn down the opportunity.

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a tough position when it comes to standing your ground. This is especially true when requests come directly from your boss or manager. If they want you to stay later or work through the weekend to get something done, you might not be able to say no. However, you can ask questions and try to come up with a compromise, so your quality of life doesn’t suffer in the process. You should be able to have a life outside of work, after all.

It’s up to you, now. Stand tall and push aside that pushover reputation once and for all — you’ll be so glad you did. Not only will your work improve, but your state of mind will, too, as you dive into tasks you want to complete, and have plenty of time to do so successfully. Stick up for yourself today to see just how great tomorrow will be.

How did you shed your pushover reputation? Let us know in the comments section below. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for even more work-related tips and tricks from Punched Clocks.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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