I once overheard half of a kind of nuts phone conversation that I could tell was NOT going well. (PS: I don’t make it a point to listen to others’ conversations- we were in the same cubicle, and she was screaming.) The person in question clearly did not agree with a request given to her by her manager and what started as a semi-rational, “I don’t think this is a good idea”, devolved into screaming about how stressed she was and how she ‘understood how her manager had to play office politics.”
The above is an extreme cast of how not to handle a request from a superior or a manager, but there are lessons we can take from this on how NOT to deal with this type of situation:
Don’t Be Reactionary: This person got the request via email, let out a huge sigh, yelled “how can they expect me to do this?!” and then picked up the phone to call the requestor. Now, I’m a huge fan of the phone to discuss this topic and many others, but doing that boom-bang-boom (official term) of immediately picking up the phone when you’re heated doesn’t bode well for the ol’ outcome. Instead, take deep breaths, remind yourself that you can give yourself 5, 10, 15 or more minutes to respond, and that the world will not implode if you don’t respond right away. I remember back in the olden days receiving emails so infuriating that I’d actually feel a jolt of anger go through my body or I’d turn red. I learned that those were precisely NOT the times to reply to something. Just because you receive an email you don’t like doesn’t mean you need to react immediately.
If it’s an in person request or in front of a group in a meeting, politely say that you’d like to think about the request and get back to them by <insert time here>. This is the bona fide number one step to avoiding a debacle of a conversation
Don’t Rely on Histrionics: Blaming stress, office politics, Mercury in Retrograde, whatever, for not wanting to do this task or not thinking it’s a good idea will not get you anywhere. That’s the honest truth right there. Everyone is overstretched and busy. Everyone tires from time to time of the office politics game. Not sure about Mercury, but calling out that you’re stressed in a stressed out frazzled tone of voice is absolutely NOT going to win your case for why you don’t believe the task or project should be prioritized in the first place. Remember, it was because it wasn’t good for the strategy of the company?
Instead, before you respond or pick up the phone or head back to her office to state your case, lay out the reasons why you don’t think this is a good idea. Make sure they are based in fact alone and tied to the overall strategy of the company. Maybe the ask will take X days of your workweek which you think would be better suited to reaching the company year end sales goal, which would mean working on another work stream, for example. If you’re clearly stating that what you think is best to work on will more directly serve the company goals, your manager will likely praise you for your vision and prioritization skills, rather than think you’re a frazzled spazball of negative energy.
Don’t Be Hypocritical. Unless you have sound, based in reality facts, of course. I’ve seen people repeatedly resist requests because they say they don’t have time to do that AND make the company’s mid-year goal, for example, but then they’re coming into the office at 10 or 11am and taking a full lunch everyday.
Instead, be mindful of your behavior and patterns and remember that people, for better or for worse, pay attention to those things. So when you push back on a request, you’re more likely to get this inner monologue from the other person: “Right and I see him online shopping all day on his computer, so I TOTALLY don’t believe it” versus “Maybe Sally has a point here and we need to consider alternatives.”
Don’t Carry The Torch: Sometimes decisions are out of our worker bee collective control. Once you calmly state your reasoning in a non-reactionary way, your manager may still ask you to do it. Maybe the reason is still not good, but maybe there’s something you don’t know. Whatever the case, spending more time having angst over it IS taking away from the goal you WANT to reach (in our example here, meeting the sales goal) and you’re not doing anything and wasting more time and energy on it! So after standing your ground and stating your case for the record, just go do it.
What other tips have you used to handle a request at work with grace and poise and what results did you achieve? Leave comments in the area below!