Interpersonal Edge: Get Respect at Work

Get Work On Feet Again

Photo by Jon Tyson/Upsplash

By Dr. Daneen Skube

Q:People take advantage of me. Co-workers expect me to pick up their slack, customers expect me to change the rules, and my boss expects me to work 24 hours a day! I don’t want to fight, but am tired of being a doormat. How can I set better boundaries?

A: In order to become a doormat, you must first lay down. You can set better boundaries without fighting by changing the behavior that signals you’re a doormat.

Setting boundaries, does not mean raging at people. In fact, people who feel taken advantage of and blow up never gain respect. Other people figure that if you were willing to do whatever you used to do, it’s your own fault.

Instead develop a good inner compass on what you feel and think when asked to do tasks that are not yours. If you immediately feel tired, overwhelmed, or resentful say “no.” Other people will get over their disappointment.

Familial emotions we had as children often influence our behavior as adults.

Those who do too much may come from families in which they felt their only value was saving everyone. As adults, our inner child may worry that if we don’t sacrifice for others, then everyone will abandon us.

If you came from one of these families, you’ll have to face your fear that you are only valuable if you’re a doormat. The truth is healthy adults realize other people do not always want to do them favors. Mature adults can accept the word “no” graciously.

If you have a co-worker or customer who has a fit when you decline to help, you can simply acknowledge the reaction: “I see you’re disappointed.” Then calmly exit.

People who believe they’re entitled to get everything they want from others are also never satisfied. No matter how much you give them, they’ll be mad you didn’t give more.

In developing boundaries, your first reaction is your wisest path. If ever in doubt, say “no” first. You can always say “yes” later. People will be pleasantly surprised if you change your mind and help. If you say “yes” when you’re unsure, backing out later creates more opportunity for conflict.

Some people believe being a “good” person means sacrificing your own well-being. Now if you think about it… the world does not need more angry martyrs. If you keep being a doormat, all you contribute is negative energy to a world that has more than enough of that.

As I tell clients, effective boundaries are a statement of human limits. If I’m hungry and stop for lunch, I make sure I have fuel to be productive. Yes, some people may judge me for “selfishly” needing to eat. These same people are people I’ll never please.

Healthy adults with clear boundaries are effective advocates for themselves. They expect the same from others. When you state boundaries to most people, they’ll shrug, and move on.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting so long to state a boundary that you blow up or blame others for your lack of communication. Saying, “Hey I didn’t let you know I need to go home early to get a solid night’s sleep,” is effective. If you say, “Obviously you expect no one to need sleep around here,” you’ll lose credibility.

In the beginning, you’ll feel abnormal for no longer laying down, but your new upright posture will encourage respect and better treatment from colleagues. Be willing to feel awkward long enough that boundaries become comfortable. You’ll never miss the feeling of feet on your back again!

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006).

You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.(C)2022 Interpersonal Edge. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.