Frankly Speaking – 3/3/14

Frank,

     I just got a new job and I want to start out making clear boundaries with my co-workers and supervisors. I want a fresh start from my previous experience with my former employer. How do I show initiative and prove myself without becoming a doormat?

This is a very common concern that many people have and a problem many people do not attempt to address until they’re on the wrong side of the line. That you are aware of this possibility at the start of a new job gives you a great advantage.

Depending on the nature of your job, this balance can become particularly tricky. For instance advancement, raises, bonuses and other types of perks may be based not only on the quality of your performance, but on your ability to go “above and beyond.” This is where most people experience difficulty because we find ourselves doing things or acting in a way that we would not normally want or choose ourselves.

In general, never do anything one time that you’re not willing to do every time. As soon as a “favor” is completed, it becomes an expectation whether you think it will or not. For instance, if you are a salaried employee and you agree to stay late one night without additional compensation, expect that you will be asked to do so again in the future.

Saying “No,” is probably the most difficult and uncomfortable part, even if you know that’s the answer you wish to give.  At the same time, trying to skirt around the issue by saying things like “I’m working on something else right now,” or “I can’t stay late tonight,” opens yourself up to be asked those things again. Saying “No,” is not wrong. It only feels that way to most of us because we are not used to saying it. Any employer that is not willing to accept your boundaries, assuming your job duties are being fulfilled, is not an employer I would want to work for, anyway.

Ultimately, you need to decide what it is that you want out of your job. Even if there are potential perks to going above and beyond, be purposefully selective with which of them you choose to do. Maybe you are willing to do extra tasks during the day, but not stay after hours. If you set your long-term goals ahead of time, decide the purposeful actions you will take (and more importantly, NOT take!) to get there and stick to them, you will find yourself on the healthy side of the line!

 

Frank,

     My sister-in-law got into a bad car accident several years back, before I met my husband. From what I have heard she is a completely different person. She has severed many ties with the family. Her mom (my mother-in-law) tries to keep the peace with the family despite the fact that my sister-in-law and my husband have not spoken in 4 years. I feel very conflicted because some family members keep giving her chances because of her injury, however I also feel like she is an adult and has made choices she should live with. Sometimes I just can’t get past how much they enable her. Please help!

There are multiple layers to this, so let’s try to take a quick look at each of them.

Let’s put the car accident aside for a moment. In general, people ascribe to one of two theories when it comes to family members. Either A) family is family no matter what, or B) respect and consideration are a requirement for someone to be in your life, family or not.

Neither one is more right than the other. It sounds like those involved may be split as to which side of this fence they come down on. This may be why some members continue to give her chances, or enable her, while others may choose not to.

From your description of the situation, it sounds like the car accident may have resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury. A TBI can result in impairment in cognitive functioning and affect things like language and memory. It can also affect an individual’s personality, including their decision-making, impulsivity, and mood. A common change in TBI patients is to go from mild-mannered to more angry, irritable, and aggressive.

The hardest part is understanding that she does not have the level of control over her abilities and actions as we might expect. She might not even be aware of the changes that have occurred within her. This can be particularly frustrating for everyone.

Despite not knowing which of the above possibilities apply to your sister-in-law, the likelihood is that she is now a very different person in some important way. The old version of her is gone. Loss occurs in many different ways in our lives. Sometimes it is an actual death of a loved one. Sometimes it is the end of a relationship, or a friendship. Sometimes a friendship changes when one of the members gets a new job and moves across the country.

Whatever the logistical reason, what exists now is not what existed before, and mourning that loss is crucial to moving forward. In the case of your in-laws, they may be struggling with accepting this notion as they are still holding on to the way things were. The way she was.

Having met her after her accident, you only know who she is now and don’t have the same basis of comparison and the same level of conflicting information. The conflict that exists for you now, however, is more about protecting your new family unit (including yourself, your husband, and whoever else has or will come along).

Ultimately, as a unit, you need to decide what is best given the current set of circumstances. Once that occurs, it becomes a matter of setting up those boundaries with the rest of the family. As I wrote in my above response, remember that what is an exception one time becomes an expectation the next time.

Between you and your husband, decide what is and is not acceptable regarding your relationship with your sister-in-law. Perhaps more importantly (and more difficult), decide how this will affect your relationship with the rest of your in-laws. For example, there might be a boundary set that this topic is not to be discussed at family gatherings.

Whatever boundaries are set, first make sure that you and your husband agree. Then implement them. Change those boundaries in the future only if you both decide to, not if someone outside your family unit pressures you to do so.

 

“Frankly Speaking” is a weekly segment on this blog that provides an opportunity for my readers to ask questions aimed at better understanding themselves, others, or their relationship with others. Each week I will select some of those questions to answer here. As you can see, the askers of those questions remain anonymous.

To submit a potential question for future installments, the only requirement that I ask is that you first become a fan of my Facebook page. “Like” my page, and then send me a private message with your question(s). Until next week!

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  1. Frankly Speaking – 3/31/14 | Frank Bevacqua, Ph.D. - […] a previous segment of Frankly Speaking, I touched upon a somewhat related topic regarding making friends in the workplace. …
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