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My boss is asking me to do something I’m not comfortable doing. How do I say no?
For horses, comfort is a funny thing. We live with and tolerate all kinds of external pressures: wind, flies, predators, fences, humans, humans, humans….
Let me share with you, as a fellow mammal, some animal body wisdom. Your animal body feels pressure just like mine. Oh yeah, let’s clear this one up right away. You’re an animal too. Get over it.
So, when you feel “uncomfortable” you are feeling pressure. There’s a point when pressure becomes pain. When we feel pain, we have to change something. It’s part of our survival system and it’s innate. Living with pressure is part of life, whether you graze the hillside or sit in a cubicle all day.
Pressure asks us to notice. We might move away from pressure to seek comfort but if we moved away from every pressure, we would spend our whole lives running. I think you guys call this avoiding. Here’s what we do when we notice a new pressure that is big enough to react to: we move away until the pressure releases and then we examine. All mammals can be curious if they are not under stress. Let’s take a step back–or a trot across the field–from your boss and his/her request. And let’s be curious. We are so much braver to look at new or uncomfortable things if we do it together. With space and support, we can make choices.
Are you uncomfortable about the request because it’s something you aren’t used to doing and you’re afraid of failing? If so, you need more support and mentorship so you can TOLERATE the pressure. Are you uncomfortable with the request because goes against your ethics or could harm you? If so, this is more than discomfort, it’s actually pain and you NEED to respond to it with a boundary. Boundaries with bosses are hard because we want to be respectful. They are often easier if we say “no” to the request but offer “yes” to something, like: “I’m not comfortable with this because it’s outside of my role. But I would like to be helpful and brainstorm with you about some other options.”
Making that distinction about discomfort is essential. Is it PRESSURE or PAIN? If it’s pain, then you need to do whatever it takes to protect and take care of yourself. If it’s pressure, it needs to be evaluated with curiosity. Move away in order to look at it. But don’t forget to use your courage and leadership to walk back toward it, learn how to shape the situation. Tolerating pressure and interacting with it actually makes us stronger leaders.