Don’t Own Other People’s Decisions

Allison, a young acquaintance of mine, works for a university in the Midwest. This past September, Lori, her highly-organized and somewhat demanding supervisor moved on. Lori was replaced by Tasha, someone so laid back that it’s driving Allison nuts. Allison is a hardworking soul who feels responsible for making sure things go well, even when those around her fail to do their part. This has created all kinds of heartburn. First, Tasha’s lack of decisiveness violates Allison’s sense of order and closure. Second, Allison knows that when things go wrong it reflects poorly on her, even when her boss was the cause of the problem. Third, Allison has grown physically weary of navigating between Tasha’s lack of action and making sure the events they are both responsible for go well.

Have you been in this, or a similar, situation? It can be maddening to find the balance between  saving the day and exhausting yourself trying to do so. On top of this, you might be dealing with the resentment you feel in having to save your boss’s butt.  So, what do you do? Here’s what I suggested to Allison.

First, compartmentalize your emotions. Granted, this can be hard to do at first, especially when you have this strong desire to “save the day.” But if you don’t do something to mitigate this stress, it will impact both your physical health and performance on the job. As much as devoted souls become invested in their work, this sense of duty has to be put in perspective. If those around you aren’t doing their parts, it is important to detach yourself before you become consumed. In this case, allowing a project or two to fail may be the wake-up call Sasha needs.

Second, decide where your threshold of responsibility lies. Since Allison and Sasha’s work is primarily project- and event-focused, I suggested that Allison put together a timeline for each one. She should include budgets, approval deadlines, and even financial penalties for low attendance, late catering orders and such. This will accomplish two objectives: 1) It will provide Sasha of the specific details requiring her attention along with the consequences for not making timely decisions; 2) It will provide Allison with cover when Sasha or Sasha’s boss wants to know why an event or project went awry.

Third, learn from the experience. In this particular case, Allison knows that she will be moving on from her position in a few months. I have encouraged her to take a few minutes before she leaves to reflect how she can better manage situations like these in the future. But even if she wasn’t leaving, it is still important to consider the take-aways since, sadly, challenges of this nature are all too common. Just check the Internet. Managing your boss and his or her decision-making is a big topic.

Your assignment? Interestingly, these three strategies can be applied to a number of challenges we face in the workplace. Consider your present situation. Chances are you’re dealing with at least issue that can be resolved using these tactics. Take a few minutes in the coming day or two to reflect how you might overcome this issue and turn it into an opportunity for growth.

Use These 3 Phrases When Managing Your Boss

Amused mature businessman calling someone with his mobile phone on white background

Ever find yourself trying to manage your boss? Most of us have at one point or another. Maybe he’s dumping on you. Perhaps he’s disorganized. Maybe he’s never around and you end up making all the decisions and absorbing all the flack.

Regardless of the reason, you can’t just stomp your feet and scream when it get’s overwhelming. You’ve probably got ideas about how to address the issue. Chances are your solutions are right on the mark. But it is natural to hesitate. You don’t want the boss to think you’re . . bossy. If you approach him the wrong way, he might get defensive or worse. That’s the last thing you want. But something has to give and it’s probably up to you to initiate the conversation.

Handling these situations requires diplomacy. After all, you don’t want to lay down the law, flip him the bird, or yell “an orangutan could do this job better than you!” Even if you don’t fly off the handle, just being abrupt can get make things awkward. So how do you approach your boss in a collaborative way without overstepping your place? Preface what you need to say with one of the following three phrases:

Can you help me understand why . . . This diplomatically places the burden on your boss to address your concern. He might, for example, tell you to arrange a meeting for 15 of his colleagues when there is already a professional meeting planner employed by the firm. This task will consume a good deal of your time and delay other projects. Approach him the following way: “I’m happy to arrange the meeting, but that’s going to distract me from the other projects you’ve assigned. Besides, the company has a full-time meeting planner. Can you help me understand why you’re asking me to do this?” Then be silent and wait for a response. On one hand, he may have a very reasonable explanation. On the other, he might say, “You’re right. I’d forgotten about that. Never mind, I’ll check with the planner.”

I’m a bit confused. Prefacing what you’re going to say with this sentence naturally elicits a desire to help on the part of the listener. You might for instance say, “I’m a bit confused. You asked me to arrange this meeting with your colleagues, but I’ve not done that kind of thing before. My learning curve is going to take some time. Wouldn’t it better to ask the firm’s meeting planner to do this?” Then see how the boss responds. He may have a specific reason for wanting you to do it. At least then you have a clear understanding of his goal.

I have a concern. This phrase is a diplomatic way of opening a conversation. You might say, “I have a concern. I’ve no experience in putting together large meetings. Between the logistics and the scheduling, I’d be on a steep learning curve. I know the firm has a full-time meeting planner. Wouldn’t is be better to request assistance from that department.” Once again, wait for a response. Sometimes a boss will assign a task without considering all options simply in an effort to clear his plate. A gentle pushback with a reasonable alternative will get the task off your plate and demonstrate that you know how to communicate and manage his priorities in a professional way. None of these phrases are failsafe. But they will help you open the door to a conversation without appearing combative or emotional.

Finally, rehearse. Have you ever thought you were going to say one thing and said something completely different in the stress of the moment? Join the club. The key to dealing with this concern is rehearsal. Plan what you are going to say. Then role play it with a colleague, close friend or spouse. Briefly explain the situation. Then ask that person to play the role of your boss. Consider the different ways your boss might respond and be prepared for each. Role play the situation several times. Not only will this reduce your stress, you will embed in your mind the words you wish to use.