How do I stop being pushed around at work?

Quick Answers

Here are some quick tips for how to stop being pushed around at work:

  • Learn to say “no” respectfully
  • Set boundaries and stick to them
  • Speak up for yourself
  • Don’t agree to unreasonable requests
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Document issues for proof
  • Escalate problems to management if needed

Being pushed around or taken advantage of at work is an unfortunate experience many people go through at some point in their careers. You may feel pressure from your boss or colleagues to work excessive hours, take on responsibilities outside your job description, or compromise your work-life balance. This can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and disrespected.

While it can be intimidating to stand up for yourself at work, especially to those in positions of authority, learning how to diplomatically yet firmly establish boundaries and say “no” when appropriate is an essential skill. It will not only make you an empowered employee but also allow you to earn the respect of those around you.

Common Situations Where You May Feel Pushed Around

Some examples of being pushed around at work include:

  • Being pressured to work unpaid overtime
  • Having additional job duties assigned without discussion
  • Being blamed for mistakes that are not your fault
  • Having your ideas dismissed or stolen
  • Being publicly reprimanded
  • Being assigned unreasonable deadlines
  • Feeling manipulated into skipping breaks or vacation time

If you find yourself in any of these situations, it may be time to reevaluate things and stand up for yourself.

Why Is It Hard to Say “No”?

There are several common reasons why people struggle to say “no” at work and set proper boundaries with colleagues or managers:

  • Fear of consequences – You may worry about retaliation, missing out on promotions, or even getting fired if you don’t go along with unreasonable requests.
  • People-pleasing tendencies – You may have a natural inclination to want to accommodate others and make them happy.
  • Lack of confidence – You may doubt your own worth and feel you don’t have the right to stand up for yourself.
  • Avoiding conflict – Confronting issues can be uncomfortable, so it’s easier to just give in.

However, allowing yourself to be treated unfairly or taken advantage of will only lead to more mistreatment and resentment on your part in the long run.

Tips for Respectfully Saying “No”

Here are some tactics to help you say “no” while maintaining professionalism:

  • State your position clearly but calmly. Say something like “I’m unable to take on that extra project right now.”
  • Offer alternatives or compromises. For example, “Could we extend the deadline by two weeks?”
  • Provide logical explanations. You might say, “I already have a full workload and won’t be able to meet quality standards with added responsibilities.”
  • Suggest other solutions. “I could assist with the initial planning stages, but will need to hand off execution to another team member.”
  • Express appreciation for the opportunity if you must decline. For example, “I’m flattered you thought of me for that promotion, but I’m not ready to move into management roles at this time.”
  • Follow up a verbal “no” in writing if needed, to confirm your boundaries.

The key things to remember are to always remain constructive, professional, and solution-oriented in your refusal, not confrontational.

Set Clear Boundaries and Stick to Them

Beyond just saying “no” in isolated situations, it’s important to proactively define your boundaries and manage expectations. Some ways to do this include:

  • Being explicit upfront about your workload capacity and limits.
  • Making sure job responsibilities are clear. Get role changes in writing.
  • Setting working hours and sticking to them. Don’t regularly accept calls or emails outside established times.
  • Blocking time on your calendar for focus work or personal appointments.
  • Creating email auto-responses about your availability.
  • Developing standard scripts to politely decline requests or refer them to others.

Enforcing boundaries consistently over time will condition colleagues to respect your time and priorities.

Speak Up Assertively in the Moment

If you find yourself being pressured, spoken to abusively, or otherwise mistreated in workplace interactions, it’s important to speak up assertively in real time. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t ignore inappropriate behavior – address it calmly but promptly.
  • Make clear, direct statements like “I’m not comfortable with that request.”
  • Avoid ambiguous language or apologies that downplay the situation.
  • Repeat your stance firmly if questioned or pressured further.
  • Suggest moving the conversation to a private location if needed.
  • Stay composed and don’t get drawn into heated debate.

Speaking respectfully but unambiguously makes it clear you won’t be manipulated or intimidated.

Get Advice from Trusted Colleagues

Talking through workplace struggles with objective, discreet colleagues can provide valuable insight. They may help you:

  • Determine if you’re overreacting or your feelings are justified.
  • Roleplay language to use in difficult conversations.
  • Consider perspectives you hadn’t thought of.
  • Identify allies who can support you.
  • Develop strategies tailored to your organization’s culture.
  • Find examples of others who have handled similar issues.

Having the input of others you trust will make you more confident in standing up for yourself.

Involve Your Manager or HR if Needed

If addressing matters directly with the person giving you trouble does not resolve the situation, consider escalating the issue by:

  • Reporting unacceptable behavior to your manager and asking them to intervene.
  • Arranging a meeting with your manager and the other individual to mediate concerns.
  • Proposing team training on workplace conduct, role clarity, and respectful communication.
  • Formally contacting HR to document problems and seek guidance on next steps per company policy.
  • Asking your manager or HR for a job description review and workload assessment.
  • Requesting a reorganization or transfer if the situation cannot be remedied otherwise.

Involving the right channels can help address the root of persistent personnel problems.

Remain Confident and Professionaland Document Issues

Even while taking a stand, it’s vital to keep your own behavior beyond reproach. You should:

  • Avoid stooping to the difficult person’s level or launching personal attacks.
  • Respond to criticisms calmly and professionally.
  • Stick to the facts when describing issues.
  • Maintain a strong work ethic and positive attitude.
  • Build support through your contributions and conduct.
  • Keep detailed records of relevant incidents.

This minimizes the chances of retaliation and strengthens your credibility over time.

Examples of Setting Boundaries at Work

To illustrate what setting professional boundaries could look like in real workplace scenarios, here are a few examples:

Declining Last-Minute Assignment

Jessica’s boss walks up to her desk at 4:45 pm and says, “I’m going to need you to put together a financial analysis for the Robertson account tonight so I can present it at our 9am meeting tomorrow.” Jessica responds, “Unfortunately, with my current workload and the late notice I don’t think I can complete a thorough analysis by 9am tomorrow. I’m happy to work on this first thing in the morning and have it ready for you by 11am, would that work?”

Leaving on Time Despite Guilt Trips

It’s 6:30 pm and Kelly’s colleagues are still hard at work even though they started at 8:30 am. Her manager says, “Kelly, the rest of the team is going to be here for a while yet, why don’t you stick around and get a head start on tomorrow’s project?” Kelly smiles and replies, “I appreciate everyone’s hard work, but I have an important commitment this evening. I’ll come in early tomorrow to make sure I’m 100% up to speed on the project before the morning meeting.”

Declining Additional Responsibilities Without Compensation

Sandra’s manager says, “Now that Tom has left the department, I’m going to need you to take over some of his client accounts in addition to your own workload. It’s going to mean more hours and weekend work, but I know I can count on you.” Sandra responds, “I’m flattered you feel I could take on more responsibility. However, I cannot absorb a 25% larger workload without fair compensation for the additional work and impact to my work-life balance. If you would like to formalize an increased role and salary bump, I would be open to discussing a transition plan.”

Tips for Preventing Future Mistreatment

Once you’ve overcome a challenging situation of being pushed around, there are some things you can do to help prevent similar issues recurring:

  • Remember your worth and don’t allow past mistreatment to undermine your self-confidence.
  • Give yourself credit for having the courage to draw a line.
  • Identify lessons learned about needs for clearer boundaries or stronger communication.
  • Get support from mentors who can advise you on developing resilience.
  • Proactively address signs of emerging problems early on.
  • Consider if a role or department change could provide a better environment.
  • Network internally and strengthen relationships with respectful colleagues.
  • Know when mediation, grievances, or legal action may be necessary.

Drawing on your experience, you can advocate for yourself moving forward.

When to Decide If You Should Leave Your Job

If repeated efforts to establish boundaries and gain respect at work fail, it may ultimately make sense to leave your job. Consider looking for a new role if you experience:

  • Ongoing mistreatment that continues despite reporting.
  • Retaliation for speaking up about issues.
  • Severely excessive workload demands.
  • Bullying, hostility, abuse, or safety concerns.
  • Health impacts like anxiety, depression, or insomnia.
  • Lack of support from management.
  • Feelings of powerlessness to influence the culture.

Leaving a toxic work environment or overloaded job may be the best way to regain your sense of control and well-being.


Being pushed around or taken advantage of at work should not be tolerated. While it can be intimidating to stand up for yourself, learning to say “no,” stick to boundaries, and speak assertively will make you a more empowered employee. Seek support when needed, keep your own conduct professional, and don’t be afraid to make a positive change if your current workplace does not respect your worth. Prioritizing self-care and a healthy work-life balance will ultimately allow you to be happier and more productive.

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