Do You Find It Hard To Say "No" At Work?

The past three posts have outlined how your locus of control affects your dealings with difficult coworkers. Locus of control refers to where you attribute responsibility for actions and your beliefs about your ability to influence those actions. Those with an external locus are met with specific challenges by attributing the source of action outside themselves. For this post, I will examine the advantages and disadvantages of an internal locus of control in coping with a difficult coworker.

Those with an internal locus of control tend to see solutions and problems as originating from within themselves. When approaching a problem, they are likely to identify with the statement “I have total control and I must do something to fix the problem.” Those with an internal locus are often viewed as action-oriented, independent self starters – qualities that are highly prized in today’s business culture. An internal locus can be an advantage when it comes to motivation, too. Not looking to others to solve problems or to assign blame when something goes wrong can foster persistence and creativity.

However, the downside of an internal locus is often overlooked. The feeling that you hold the ultimate power to influence events can very often lead to an overwhelming sense of responsibility. The attitude that “If I don’t do this, no one will” can lead those with an internal locus to take on too much because they feel that coworkers are not essential to problem-solving. In fact, others can often be viewed as a roadblock to creating and effectively implementing projects.

In the case of a difficult coworker, those with an internal locus are often left with the feeling that they must pick up the slack for this person. They may find themselves being overly attentive to this person’s work so they can catch errors and correct them. At the extreme, those with an internal locus may co-opt much of the work of this difficult coworker. If the coworker is a boss, additional layers of resentment are likely to build.

Sometimes an internal locus can make it difficult to say no because of the belief that if it’s going to be done right, you have to do everything As a result, many individuals end up in the position of never saying no to a task or project. They take on more and more work, all the while building a growing resentment for their burden. For these reasons, those with an internal locus can become alienated from others and take on a martyr mentality in the workplace. In such situations, self-blame and guilt for setbacks can take on outsized meanings.

In the case of coping with a difficult coworker, those with an internal locus face additional challenges. Undervaluing the role that others play can just be the starting point. Not surprisingly, those with an internal locus often do not work well on teams. Because of the burdens of over-responsibility, those with an internal locus can overreact when faced with feedback from a difficult coworker. When you feel that everything is riding on your back, you can really personalize your work. This can leave those with an internal locus feeling highly sensitive to any criticism or setbacks both large and small.

What to Do?

  • Try experimenting with saying no. Pick a smaller scale issue to start. Can you imagine your responsibilities in terms of their importance? Think about their overall weight of priority. If it helps, write down a list for yourself and add to it as new tasks arise.
  • Allow the difficult coworker to fully manage a task that you’ve been overseeing. Don’t check in during the process. Assess the outcome. It’s very likely that there will be differences in their work from what you would have done. Is the work completely wrong or is it just different than you would have chosen to do? If there are things that just won’t work, what feedback can you provide in order to help them learn?

If you feel that an internal locus of control is saddling you with unfair burdens and keeping you stuck in intractable conflicts with difficult coworkers, give these suggestions a try. If you’re still feeling stuck, contact me to set up a meeting where I can offer solutions tailored to your specific situation.