“Well, I’m certainly happy to take this to the tenant advocacy group if need be,” I say tartly. I tap my finger meaningfully on a highlighted section of my lease and raise my eyebrows.
It’s 2011 and I’m tangling with my landlord. He’s trying to make me cover the cost of repairing a phone jack that didn’t work when I moved in (?!?). I’ve pulled the appropriate paperwork, researched my options, and generally made him rue the day he messed with the blonde in 7A.
If you need someone take concerns to HR, call the president of the condo board, or convince your boss you deserve a raise, I am that someone.
(I mean, just as an aside, I don’t think they let friends negotiate raises but you see where I’m going with this.)
Since I’m the captain of team “I’d like to speak to the manager,” you’d think that would translate to other parts of my life, right?
For a long time, it didn’t.
For years, I would happily confront anyone, anywhere if I was backed by a “policy.” If I could print something out and point to a specific sentence, I was fearless. Backed by structure and bureaucracy, I felt confident taking on my boss, my landlord, my insurance company, my cell phone provider.
And I could summon the same tenacity when I advocated or negotiated for other people. You will regret the day you tried to overcharge my friend, because I am going to have words about it!!!
But when it came to advocating for myself in tenuous situations – situations where I was only backed by feelings, not paperwork – I’d wilt into a milquetoast wallflower. I’d make a mumbled, half-hearted request and then fade back into the carpet.
Apparently this is quite common. A 2016 study showed that women negotiate better outcomes when they’re negotiating for others than when they negotiate for themselves.
I was the same. Until I started creating ‘personal policies.’
This doesn’t sound particularly sexy, does it? But when we create personal policies, we remove a lot of those gray areas that trip us up. We give ourselves the structure and support we need to do the things we say we want to do.
Your personal policies can be fun! For example, I have a personal policy to buy Combos on any car ride that’s longer than 2 hours. I also have a personal policy that I buy gumballs anytime I encounter a gumball machine and have the requisite quarter.
You could have a personal policy that you don’t watch movies starring or directed by men who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct. You could have a personal policy that you always try to buy things second hand before you pay full price. You could have a personal policy that you speak up anytime someone uses the word “retard.”
Here’s why ‘personal policies’ work
They create a comfortable distance between us and own hard choices
Have you ever lobbied HR or a board of directors only to hear “Sorry, it’s company policy; there’s nothing I can do”? The person saying that probably doesn’t feel overly burdened by guilt. She’s just enforcing the policies someone else put a lot of time, thought, and effort into creating!
It’s not personal. She probably didn’t lose sleep over her responses. She’s just sticking to the rules. And you probably didn’t hold a grudge against her; she’s just the messenger.
You can do the same for the hard, awkward choices in your life.
- “I have a personal policy not to lend money to friends or family.”
- “I have a personal policy against riding with a driver who’s had more than two drinks.”
- “I have a personal policy to only date people who treat me nicely.”
They’re training wheels for standing up for ourselves
Now, in a perfect world, we’d all feel comfortable maintaining our boundaries and advocating for ourselves. We’d be able to calmly say, “I feel unimportant when you don’t return my texts. I feel scared when you yell at me. This relationship seems unhealthy and I’m going to end it.”
Those statements require a lot of courage. If you’re not there yet, lean on that personal policy. You know, the one to only date people who treat you nicely.
They remove wiggle room we might not want or need
The paradox of choice is real. Decision fatigue is real. If you have a personal policy, you can pull all those overwhelming decisions off the table. Should you go out for dinner? Order in? Welp, you’ve got a personal policy to always eat leftovers as soon as possible, so that’s what you do!
Has that cutie been slow to return texts or make time for you? Rather than worrying about them or how you “need to change” to keep their attention, remember your personal policy. You don’t date people who take more than a day to return a text.
When we have personal policies, we’re less likely to talk ourselves out of healthy things or into unhealthy ones. Remove the space for excuses. Make it easier on yourself!
Weirdly, sometimes people respect “personal policies” more than preferences or requests
For a variety of depressing reasons (misogyny? respect for corporate-style phrases?) people sort of blink and snap to attention when a woman throws out the phrase “personal policy.”
I mean, picture the reactions to these two interactions:
- “Ummm, are you okay to drive? I’m not super comfortable getting into a car with someone who’s had two cocktails in an hour. I think I’ll just get a Lyft.”
- “I have a personal policy against riding with people who have had more than two cocktails in an hour.”
If you heard the latter, I bet you’d quickly realize that a) this woman is NOT getting in the car with you b) she will never get in a car with you if you’ve had two cocktails in an hour. She’s told you where she stands and you can make your decisions accordingly.
Personal policies greatly reduce the need for repeated conversations
After you tell your friend that you have a personal policy against lending money to buddies, it’s pretty unlikely she’ll ask again. Much less likely than if you mumble into your scarf about “Not this time” or “Haha! Wish I had spare cash to lend!”
If your friends know you have a personal policy against driving after two drinks or talking trash about an ex’s new squeeze, they’re less likely to include you in trash talking sessions or drinking binges. The more open and honest you are about your personal policies, the less you’ll have to use them.
Ultimately, personal policies help you protect your time, energy, and money so you have more to put towards the things you want.
That’s a policy worth getting behind, right?
But I want to hear from you! Does this resonate with you? If you created personal policies, what would they be?
P.S. Maintaining your boundaries is a habit that you can develop – just like meditating and taking vitamins. This will help!