The trouble with ‘my door is always open.’
Are you the good friend who always listens while others unburden themselves of their problems? If you’re the one who feels taken advantage of by family members, or the manager with a door always open to the stress, worries and complaints of your team, then it’s time to take a look at why this is happening and understand the impact it could be having on you and your wellbeing.
If this is happening in your personal relationships
If you are the shoulder that others cry on, but when it’s you that needs a shoulder none is available, then it might be time to review the balance in some of your relationships. You might have fallen into the pattern of becoming the rescuer in your relationships.
Perhaps you’ve gradually allowed people to take advantage of you and now it’s got to the point where you’re either feeling exhausted by other people’s problems, or you’re becoming resentful.
So what can you do to reset the balance while still being a caring and compassionate friend? Here are some suggestions.
Be honest with yourself. Take some time for some self-reflection. Of course, a good friend offers emotional as well as practical support, but if it’s a bit one-sided in your friendships then it may not be healthy. Sometimes our eagerness to help comes from a desire to please people, or a low a self-esteem.
Set Boundaries. Even when it feels good to help our friends and family, when the relationship doesn’t feel balanced you might end up feeling as though you’ve been taken advantage of, used, or unappreciated. Setting healthy boundaries is vital to your wellbeing. People who respect you will also learn to respect your boundaries.
Invest in Yourself. Spend time on your own personal development. Read books that inspire and encourage you to become more empowered. Work with a coach to build your self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem. Not only will you learn how to develop positive habits and healthier relationships, you’ll also have someone who will listen non-judgementally when you want to express what’s on your mind.
If this is happening at work
I often have senior managers or department heads telling me that they’re exhausted from being the one everyone comes to when they need to offload. They’re good people, they care, they want to help.
But it’s not always work-related and they don’t feel sufficiently equipped to help, so all they do is listen (probably the most valuable thing they could do). The person coming to talk feels better just from having a space to download everything that’s on their mind, vent their frustration or get things off their chest, but they may not be any closer to changing the situation that caused the issue in the first place.
If you’re the person who has just listened sympathetically, it’s possible you don’t actually have anywhere to go and offload your own frustrations and feelings, and now you also have to manage the emotions you’ve taken on from the members of your team to whom you’ve offered a compassionate ear.
So why do people always come to you with their problems? Probably because you’ve demonstrated some of these positive traits in the workplace, that make you approachable and easy to talk to.
- You treat people kindly, offering praise and acknowledgement
- You’ve shown vulnerability
- You listen without judging
- You’ve modelled behaviour that others value
- You’re sympathetic and understanding
- You make yourself available to others
There’s nothing wrong with being a caring, empathic leader, in fact it’s a good thing.
By allowing this side of you to show, you’re more likely to get the best from your team. People will enjoy working for you, they’ll feel valued and appreciated, and engaged in working with you towards team goals. But this doesn’t have to happen at the cost of your own wellbeing.
It’s useful to reflect and take an honest look at why you may have allowed or encouraged this to continue to the point where it’s become too much.
Can you identify any rescuing behaviours in yourself?
Don’t suddenly stop being available as this can damage trust, but you do need to start making some changes, both for your own wellbeing and also to empower your team.
Start setting boundaries. Just as relevant at work as in your personal life. It’s okay to sometimes be unavailable, you can still offer support, but at a time when it’s not going to add pressure or stress to a busy day. Establish clear boundaries, communicate them so that others understand, and make sure you uphold them. People will soon catch on.
Adopt a coaching approach. Encourage people to look at situations objectively and find their own solutions, after all, they will need to do this if you aren’t around, and it will develop behaviours that can help them in all aspects of their life.
Provide alternative methods of support. One of the services I offer to organisations is to provide life coaching for employees. Often people just need a space to talk to someone who will be non-judgemental, and allow them to process their thoughts and see a way forward. It also helps people to develop their self-awareness, and build a resilient mindset that will serve them well. Also look at the mental health support provided by your organisation. Although the people coming to you with their issues don’t necessarily need counselling, it’s a valuable addition to your employee assistance program.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that life coaches, counsellors and therapists are professionally trained and are able to listen empathically without taking on all the problems of their clients. They also have regular supervision for ongoing support.
If you are the person at work that everyone comes to with their problems, who is supporting you?