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Assert Your Boundaries - Challenge #2

Better Said newsletter 002

Read time: 7 minutes

Topics covered: Assertive Communication, Setting Boundaries, Soft Skills

Welcome back to this week's exploration of effective communication. If you're new here, welcome! If you joined us last week, that's fantastic—I hope you successfully defined your values and goals for the year. Your challenge was to clearly define them and go through the boundary checklist to understand when to say yes or no.

Quick Reflection

How did your challenge go?

Were you able to identify when to take something on and when to decline?

Today, our focus is on how to communicate those boundaries once you've figured them out.


We've set our goals and learned how to determine what to say no to last week, this week we learn how to say no. Techniques discussed include "Five-Minute Favors," navigating remote communication challenges, the "Broken Record" approach, and using "I Statements" to establish boundaries.

This week’s challenge (45 min)

  • Pick recent transgression of your boundary

  • Reimagine the situation and come up with a:

  • 5-minute favour as a resolution

  • A statement to use as a broken record

  • An I statement if they kept pushing

  • Most important: Say it aloud. Work on the tone, volume, body language, eye contact.

The Five-Minute Favours 

The first technique I'd like to share with you is inspired by Adam Grant's article discussing givers, takers, and matchers. In essence, there are three types of people in the world: givers, who help others without expecting anything in return; takers, who prioritize their own interests and may take advantage of others; and matchers, most of us, who give and take based on the situation, matching the energy of those around us.

According to a long-term study, pure givers often fall to the bottom in terms of productivity and success metrics at work. However, the most successful individuals are also givers, distinguishing themselves by specializing in what Grant calls "five-minute favours." These individuals willingly assist others, often more than their colleagues, but they are selective about the tasks they take on. They seek impactful ways to help others without compromising their own efficiency—hence the term "5-minute favours."

An example of applying this approach in your own life could be when a colleague presents you with a vague question related to your expertise. Instead of immediately diving into extensive research, ask them to provide more details about why they need the information, to what depth, and by when. By obtaining a clear understanding, your colleague becomes a better communicator, and you are more likely to provide a quicker and more precise solution. Don't hesitate to suggest a brief meeting if that facilitates better communication, especially if writing is not your forte.

Remote Communication Challenges

In the realm of remote work, the shift to digital communication, such as emails, has drawbacks. While emails are effective for asynchronous information, they lack the richness of in-person interactions. Remote work eliminates face-to-face communication but doesn't necessarily replace it with video or voice calls. It's crucial to consciously reflect on whether the chosen mode of communication is suitable for the task at hand. For instance, even a short voice note can convey complex information without the need for synchronous scheduling, allowing for a more nuanced exchange.

Remember, protecting your time is essential, especially when tasks fall outside your responsibilities.

Broken Record Approach

The second technique I want to share is the "broken record" approach. You might be familiar with the idea that "no" is a complete sentence, and this technique is similar. Often, when others try to persuade us to take on a task, they may change their reasons or offer additional incentives. However, if the fundamental issue is a lack of time or a conflict with your priorities, sticking to a consistent response can be powerful.

Here's an example:

Person: "Hey, could you take on the new client?"

You: "Actually, I can't take on any more projects right now."

Person: "But this is a really important client for the team. If we can get them to sign on, we'll be able to make our end-of-the-year targets."

You: "I can't take on any more projects right now."

Person: "Come on, be a team player."

You: "Can't take on any more projects right now."

Person: "Listen, this would be a huge favor for me. Can you please take it on?"

You: "I value our relationship, but I can't take on any more projects right now."

Using this technique might feel uncomfortable, as our natural tendency is to address the specific concerns raised. However, by repeating yourself, you ensure that your core message remains clear, regardless of the reasons presented by the other person. This approach signals that you are serious about your decision.

A crucial point to note is that this technique should be used honestly. If you have the bandwidth to take on a task but don't want to, using the broken record approach could backfire. It's important to maintain integrity and use these communication tools responsibly, assuming that readers here are go-getters and ethical individuals aiming to apply these tools for positive purposes.

"I Statements" to Establish Boundaries

The final technique I'll share with you today is using "I statements," a communication staple. While we often associate I statements with high-conflict situations to avoid blaming others, they can also be effective in establishing boundaries. This comes in handy when you feel wronged or misunderstood even after employing the broken record technique.

An I statement includes three essential elements: addressing the behavior, expressing your feelings, and outlining the tangible effect or consequence on you. Here are a couple of examples:

"I don't feel like I'm being heard when you repeatedly ask me to take on a task that I have told you I do not have the bandwidth to handle. It gives the impression that I don't actually have the option to say no."

"I don't feel like you trust my judgment when you repeatedly ask me to take on a task that I've informed you I cannot handle right now. Taking on another project will compromise the quality of work for my other clients and affect my ability to meet deadlines and keep promises."

These statements allow you to articulate your feelings, clarify the impact of the behavior on you, and foster a better understanding of your perspective. Using I statements can be a powerful tool in communicating boundaries and ensuring that your concerns are acknowledged and respected.

This Week’s Challenge (45 min)

As we wrap up, I'm challenging you to put these three techniques into practice. I won't ask you to dive headfirst into telling your boss you can't take on more work; going from 0 to 100 can be overwhelming. Instead, let's start with a simple exercise.

Think back to a moment in the past week or month when you wished you had said no or stood up for your boundaries. We've all had those "aha" moments, perhaps in the car or during a shower. 

Take that specific example, and in the privacy of your own home, practice each of these techniques. 

Imagine turning it into a 5-minute favor, find the repeated statement for the broken record approach, and craft an "I statement" to reestablish your boundary if needed. 

The entire practice should take no more than 15 minutes per situation. Your goal is to come up with three examples, whether today or over the week, totaling 45 minutes of practice.

  • Pick recent transgression of your boundary

  • Reimagine the situation and come up with a:

  • 5-minute favor as a resolution

  • A statement to use as a broken record

  • An I statement if they kept pushing

  • Most important: Say it outloud. Work on the tone, volume, body language, eye contact.

Remember, you're not just reading this newsletter for enjoyment (though I hope you found it a bit enjoyable). You're committing to change, and change requires action. So, go ahead, give it a shot, and see the positive impact these techniques can have on your communication and boundary-setting skills.

Keep communicating effectively, protect your time, and embrace the positive change you're initiating!


Thanks for reading issue 002 of my weekly Better Said newsletter.

For those of you who are new to my newsletter, Better Said, discusses the following three goals: (1) Elevating crucial soft skills, (2) Reaching career milestones, and (3) Creating ethical leadership.

Here’s how we can stay in touch:

1. You can find me on LinkedIn and on my website,

2. If you are curious about working with me, you can book a free consultation where I will help you outline your goals and co-create a growth action plan with you whether or not we decide to work together. 


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