Helping students create healthy boundaries

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Every year I meet with students who are exhausted, frustrated, angry, and suffering because they are taking care of another student. While we encourage students to engage in up-stander behavior, students should not feel they are responsible for the ongoing health and well-being of another student. Of course, we want students to look out for each other and help each other avoid dangerous situations; but taking 24/7 shifts to be with another student indefinitely, feeling the need to use their cell phone to track another student’s location, frequently leaving class to respond to another student’s emergency, regularly staying up all night or missing study time to care for another student, and regularly checking in with another student via text or other means to be sure the other student is ok, are unhealthy behaviors.

As educators, many of us also have caretaking tendencies. There is so much need in the world, it is tempting to give our time, energy, and expertise to the point of exhaustion. I often draw on my own experiences when helping students learn to establish boundaries. For some caretaking students, this is their first exposure to creating boundaries.

These are some tips I share with students who are struggling to care for their friends and have healthy boundaries.

  1. Set limits  – Many students I meet with are uncomfortable setting limits. They tell me, “I can’t tell her no.” “I have to be available.” I give them examples of what limits sound like, and ask them if they think they would be able to say these things to their friend. For example, “I have to study tonight and will be turning my phone off from 5 p.m.-10 p.m.” or “If you call me and tell me you are going to harm yourself, I will call campus police because I care about you and don’t want you to hurt yourself.” I also remind students that when they set limits, they need to follow through. And, I reassure students that limits can be set in a loving and compassionate way. For example, “I really care about you and am concerned, but I’m not a trained professional. And, if you feel like harming yourself, you need to call the Hotline.”
  2. Identify referrals and resources – Students are often concerned that if they aren’t available, their friend will be left alone and without help. I help students identify other resources and sources of support they can provide so they don’t feel solely responsible for another student. I encourage students to tell their friend to call the Hotline, a parent or family member, or 911 if their friend needs help.
  3. Be aware of your feelings – Students who are caretaking often feel angry and resentful. Sometimes they are ashamed of their anger and express that it feels selfish to feel angry when their friend needs them. However, anger can be an important signal that our boundaries are being violated. I encourage students to notice when they feel angry, resentful, or uncomfortable, and consider whether that might be a time to establish a boundary.
  4. Be direct – It can be challenging for some students to be direct, especially students who are raised in collectivistic or high-context cultures. In collectivistic cultures, communication tends to be indirect and a high value is placed on avoiding conflict. When the situation involves two students from different cultural backgrounds, it can be important to talk about communication styles and help them practice being direct.
  5. Focus on your purpose – I remind students that they are attending university for a purpose. By ignoring their own need to study, sleep, exercise, and attend class, they are making choices which take them away from their purpose.
  6. Identify what is in your control – I encourage students to make a list of what is within their control – when they eat, sleep, study; how often they check their phone; who they spend time with; whether or not they go to class. Then, I ask them to make a list of what is beyond their control – whether their friend takes his/her medication; if their friend decides to drink alcohol or take drugs; whether their friend gets angry; ultimately, other people’s choices. Finally, I encourage students to focus on the things within their control and let go of those things which are beyond their control.
  7. Self-care – When students are caretaking, they tend to neglect caring for themselves.  This can take different forms – giving up sleep, study time, exercise. It is critical that caretakers realize they must take care of themselves before they can take care of others. Taking care of another person with a mental health issue can also lead the caretaker to experience psychological distress as well. I encourage students to maintain regular exercise routines, eat healthy, schedule study time, and try relaxation techniques like meditation and mindfulness to remain healthy and academically successful.
  8. Name your guilt – This is one of the hardest parts of setting boundaries. There is usually a fear that by not being available, not checking in, and/or not responding, one is being selfish or even takes the risk of not being there to prevent a tragedy. This is a valid concern, and it deserves acknowledgement. There is a real reason why the student is concerned about his/her friend. However, guilt should not prevent students from focusing on their own needs, self-care, and purpose, and I try to help students find the balance between caring for themselves and others.
  9. Seek counseling – I often refer students to Counseling Services. I explain it can be helpful to have someone to talk to who doesn’t have an agenda. While a student might have friends and family who can be supportive, a counselor can help a student determine what is in the student’s best interest, help the student better understand the relationship, and help the student set healthy boundaries. Sometimes I meet students who are enmeshed. They are involved in a relationship or friendship where boundaries seem impossible. It is especially important in these situations that students have opportunities to speak to a licensed professional therapist.

These conversations can be difficult. Sometimes students get angry with me or express that they simply cannot establish boundaries. But many times, students come back and thank me for helping them. Being a caretaker is often unsustainable, and inevitably a student either establishes boundaries or has to give up being a caretaker due to exhaustion or frustration.

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Managing Your Boss Saves You Time

EmployeeOfTheMonth

Today Paul Gordon Brown published a great post on What They Didn’t Teach You in Grad School: Managing Up. He is right on when he said, “learning to manage up entails a critical set of skills necessary to advance and be successful in your career.” I share the following tips on how to successfully manage your boss in my Time Management workshop. I have been presenting this information to groups of students and young professionals for years, long before I started working for my current boss. Regardless of your age or professional level, I think these tips are still helpful.

Why is it important to manage your boss?

•  An adversarial relationship with your boss can cause stress (which equals wasted time)

•  When your boss trusts you, you will be given more freedom to work independently (big time saver)

•  A positive relationship with your boss may result in additional resources or support (that may save you time)

9 Steps for Managing Your Boss

1. Bring solutions not excuses

Believe it or not, your boss doesn’t have all the answers. And if he/she does, it may not be the answer you want to hear. It is better to bring the solution you would like to see than to take a chance on the solution your boss may suggest.

2. Exude confidence

When your boss sees that you are confident, you are more likely to be trusted and given more autonomy. This creates more flexibility for you to do your work independently as well.

3. Prepare your “done” list

Be prepared to share your accomplishments with your boss. When you are asked “what have you been up to?” or “how’s it going?” you should have a positive response that demonstrates your contributions and productivity.

4. Clarify

Clear communication and expectations are paramount to your success. Be sure you understand what is being asked of you, who you can turn to for help, and how your success is being measured. If necessary, take notes in your meetings so you can refer back to conversations about these key expectations.

5. Approach your boss with honesty, respect, and empathy

Support your boss’s decisions. Do not bad-mouth your boss. Approach your boss in private if you disagree or have a concern.

6. Manage your meetings

Be sure you know when your next meeting is with your boss and what you need to have done by then. Be prepared with appropriate questions.

7. Avoid Interrupting

Your boss is a busy person. Do your best to find answers and resources independently before interrupting your boss.

8. Don’t draw attention to your mistakes

Avoid turning a mole hill into a mountain. Overall, your boss wants to hear your good news and positive stories. For every problem you bring to your boss, be sure you have shared 2-3 solutions or positive outcomes.

9. Learn to read social cues

Timing is crucial. Understanding how your boss behaves when he/she is working on a deadline vs. feeling sociable can increase your chances of gaining positive or negative attention. Do not attempt small talk if your boss appears stressed. On the other hand, if he/she is feeling sociable take the opportunity to share a few success stories.

Check out another great article on What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up at Harvard Business Review.

8 Steps for Leading Organizations

Fire

An effective leader needs to have fire – a passion, light, and ability to create change. Fire can transform, comfort, and make way for new life. Yet, too much fire can destroy and decimate our communities, structures, and assets. In order to understand how leaders can manage their own fire, I have applied the fire management practices below to leading organizations.

(Adapted from the Standard Firefighting Orders of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.*)

1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts. Know what is going on around campus – campus climate – and in the larger field of higher education. Read campus and higher education publications, attend campus programs and conferences, and follow social media to understand the current conditions.

2. Know what your fire is doing at all times. Success in campus leadership requires an accurate assessment of the current situation. Lack of knowledge and information leaves leaders vulnerable and unprepared to respond. You may create unintended consequences if your fire starts burning out of control.

3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire. A leader must be able to interpret the existing conditions and predict changes based on reliable indicators.

4. Identify escape routes and safety zones, and make them known. Have a backup plan in the event that your fire takes an unpredicted direction. A contingency plan will be necessary if you are met with resistance or lack of resources.

5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger. Surround yourself with trusted advisors. Ask others to help you identify red flags, danger zones, and threats.

6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively. Risk-taking, living passionately, and being a change agent can be exhilarating and scary. Stay calm and clear-headed. Your team will feel your confidence and take your lead.

7. Maintain prompt communication with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces. Leadership is not just about providing direction, it requires two-way communication. Communicate and listen to those around you. Be prepared to change directions and use new information to correct your course.

8. Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood. Again, communication is crucial. Once you have assessed the conditions and identified threats, provide a clear direction for your team. Check for understand and answer questions. Create opportunities for your team to ask for clarification and encourage people to summarize what they think you said.

 

* Thanks to my partner Aaron for sharing his firefighting resources!

 

Thoughts on Heroes and Men

Somehow last week I managed to hide under a rock, and I did not hear about the death of Dave Goldberg until this weekend. Dave Goldberg was chief executive officer of SurveyMonkey and husband of Sheryl Sandberg, author of NY Times bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead. According to many media sources, Dave was the man behind the successful woman. He was a supportive and involved spouse. And, Forbes said, “[his feedback] played a critical role in giving the book its heart.”

I’ll be honest and say I have not fully bought into the  Lean In movement, since I’m not sure that encouraging women to increase their ambition and acquire more power is going to solve the inequalities we face in our current culture. However, what I do buy into is the role of men in the movement. Men who want to support and encourage women, to do their part in building an equal world, and to be true partners in marriages, families, and relationships, are critical to achieving equality.

I believe we gain the most ground by inviting men to be allies in any feminist movement. We also gain ground by allowing and encouraging men to step outside the gender box – to be stay-at-home dads, share domestic responsibilities, and be involved in family life. Fortunately, I have had these types of men in my life, starting with my dad. I have also had male mentors, teachers, advisors, co-workers, and friends who have supported my ambition and success.

When men are partners with women at home, encourage them to seek growth opportunities, use respectful language, and praise their accomplishments, men become heroes in the movement towards equality. It takes a man who is smart, brave, confident, and fair – all qualities of a great hero – to embrace an equal partnership. It is with supportive men behind us, or better yet beside us, that women can have it all.

 

3 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships and Grow Your Influence

Handshake

Last week, there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by two seasoned college presidents. In the article, both presidents highlighted the critical role of relationships, which reminded me of this previous post on the importance of relationships. For presidents, relationships are crucial to being an influencer.

The president is often seen as the most influential person on a campus. However, we all have influence. Whether we have positional power or are trying to influence someone in a higher position. All members of the campus community can be influencers.

Some people we can influence through relationship are donors, supervisors, and peers.

How do we improve our ability to influence through relationships?

1. Our presence. Our ability to influence is affected by how others perceive us. How do others see you? What qualities do others admire about you? These qualities may not be the same characteristics that we see as our strengths. For example, you may believe that others most admire you for your expertise and experience, but they may actually love your sense of humor the most!

2. Service. When we think about donors, we may focus on what they can provide us. But when we ask what we can give them, we may be surprised that we have a lot more to offer – opportunities to reconnect with faculty and alumni, recognition at campus events, or networking opportunities. When we serve others, we are proactively building our relationship with them.

3. Shared interests. One of my favorite quotes is “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” When we impose our influence through rules and positional power, we take away other people’s dignity. When people share an interest, the shared solutions can be greater than one person’s alone.

5 Questions to Help Make Tough Decisions

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That’s me standing on the Porch of Indecision

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As Student Affairs professionals, we are often faced with some tough personal and professional decisions. In my career, I have had to decide whether to pick up part-time teaching work, when was the best time to start my family, would I consider relocating for career advancement, was I ready to get my PhD, should I accept a time-consuming volunteer role, and should I take on my family’s business. I firmly believe  we cannot be satisfied with someone else’s answer to these tough questions – we must make these decisions on our own.

Friends and family can offer advice, but the best thing they can do is ask you the right questions. A big decision can feel…well, BIG. But like a big goal, it can be more easily achieved by breaking it down into smaller pieces.

Here are 5 questions that can help to make tough decisions:

1. What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

Fear of failure often keeps us paralyzed. It prevents us from maximizing our full potential and fully exercising our strengths. When I was considering a Ph.D. program, the fear of failure was my biggest limitation. I have come to accept and embrace failure as an essential part of learning. Often our failures are not as irreversible or detrimental as we make them out to be in our minds.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

2. How does this decision fit into your greater purpose?

Indecisiveness or resistance to making a decision can often be rooted in an underlying value or belief. When a choice seems logical and clear, yet we are still resistant, there may be some deeper inner conflict going on. When my mom approached me about being more involved in our family business, I wanted to honor her and was attracted to the earning potential of a career in real estate; however,  real estate was not my calling. There were aspects that I would have enjoyed, and I could probably have been successful, but my passion is working in education with students.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs

3. Is this the right time?

Some decisions seem crystal clear, except for the timing. One of my toughest decisions was declining the invitation to be the volunteer coordinator for my friend’s mayoral campaign. I wanted to do it, it felt aligned with my greater purpose,  and it was a great match for my skill set, but the timing was terrible. I was a full-time working mom, struggling in my relationship, and had several other commitments. On the other hand, there isn’t always a perfect time. Timing is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor. When an opportunity arises, you may not feel fully prepared but it may be the time to take a risk.

“You can do anything but not everything.” – David Allen

4. How will you feel after you have made this decision?

Visualizing the outcome of the two or more scenarios when trying to make a decision can help us tap into our “gut” reaction. The power of intuition is discussed in a lot of decision-making research, including Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. According to Gladwell, the more expertise you have on a topic, the more likely your gut will predict the most accurate outcome.

“There will be a few times in your life when all your instincts will tell you to do something, something that defies logic, upsets your plans, and may seem crazy to others. When that happens, you do it.” – Judith McNaught

5. What role does your ego play in this decision?

Fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt, and anger are the manifestations of the ego. Ego causes us to compare ourselves to others. Ego takes everything personally. It wants to be right. It needs to feel superior. And, it can lead us to make poor decisions. When we make a decision because we want what someone else has, or we think something will make us happy, the ego is in control.

“You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

 

12 Self-Promotion Strategies for Introverts

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Introverts are awesome! They are the calm, humble, thoughtful people who are quietly doing a ton of work and taking very little credit! Introverts tend to be deliberative and self-aware; they tend to be detail-oriented; they spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting; and, they can give intense focus and concentration to a task.

Introverts are also the best leaders for proactive teams because they listen to their followers and are receptive to the team’s ideas (Harvard Business School, 2010). Introverted leaders view their positions as a responsibility to take care of the people and organizations entrusted to them. And, they tend to be great problem solvers – developing solutions based on observations, research and reflection.

Given these characteristics, how do introverts make connections and sell themselves in the workplace? Here are 12 self-promotion strategies for introverts:

1. Use social media. Introverts tend to excel at writing. Excellent social media content can set you apart from others. Another advantage of social media is you can choose to engage when you feel inspired or schedule a regular time to be active when you feel most sociable.

2. Give a presentation. Introverts tend to be more creative and energized when they can think alone. Planning a presentation for a conference or staff training allows you the time and space to research, plan and prepare (all things that introverts are great at doing!) and then showcase your knowledge and skills.

3. Be prepared. Introverts are thoughtful processors, which can create anxiety around events or conversations that require thinking on our feet. Prepare for meetings or social events with one or two ideas that you can contribute based on the topic or purpose of the meeting.

4. Be confidently quiet. Being quiet can sometimes be misinterpreted as being insecure, annoyed, or uninterested. Although you may be thinking deeply about the topic being discussed, be aware of your body language, non-verbal cues, and other signals you may be unintentionally sending to others.

5. Build one-on-one relationships. Introverts prefer deep meaningful relationships rather than having lots of contacts. Focus on developing strong connections with influential people in your life – mentors, stakeholders, supervisors – rather than trying to please or engage with everyone.

6. Provide solutions. Introverts are keen observers. They miss very little, although others may assume they are not engaged. Introverts are also great at connecting the dots and executing. Use the information you learn, observe the gaps, connect the missing pieces, and use the information to propose solutions or improve your work.

7. Create your community. Identify the other quiet observers around you and take intentional action to make a connection. Other introverts are likely to understand your needs and can help provide support and encouragement. Also, seek out other self-proclaimed introverts who are successfully navigating the extrovert world and who can give you guidance and suggestions (such as Keith Ferrazzi).

8. Build a portfolio. Introverts tend to avoid tooting their own horn. A portfolio does the talking for you. Use examples of your work to demonstrate your skills during an interview or meeting. It can include photos, certificates, writing samples, lists of projects, or letters of recommendation.

9. Schedule meetings. Spontaneous meetings can derail an introvert. In order to stay in touch with other staff members, schedule time into your calendar for catching up or reviewing projects. If you miss your opportunity in an impromptu meeting, you can also follow up afterward in an email or one-on-one.

10. Network intentionally. Introverts are great at research and asking poignant questions. Before you attend an event, pick one or two people you want to meet. Research the person(s) and develop a few potential talking points or questions.

11. Create trust. Introverts are great listeners, and by using your listening and empathy skills you can make others feel calm and secure. People remember the way you make them feel more than what you say. When you can establish trust with others, you become seen as fair, ethical, and competent.

12. Serve others. Introverts are characterized by humility, a desire to serve others, and the ability to empower others. These are  also the traits of servant leadership – a powerful style of many leaders of high-performing companies. The best leaders treat others with respect and acknowledge the contributions of others. When you find ways to make other people successful, help them accomplish their goals, and support others, your load becomes lighter, your path becomes easier, and you become unstoppable!