How To Effectively Pushback on Your Boss

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Last week I wrote about the importance of prioritization when dealing with being overwhelmed and overworked that many leaders experience on a regular basis.  (Feeling Overwhelmed? Prioritize and Pushback)  The other key factor in handling and alleviating the “overwhelm” is to be able to effectively pushback on some of those “urgent” requests that continually get piled onto your task list.   It’s not always easy to confront your boss (or anyone at a higher level than you) when they assign you additional work or a new project; however, as was mentioned in last week’s blog post, there are only 24 hours in a day and you only have so many resources and so much capacity on your team.  Continuous urgent requests not only impact your ability to get work completed but also complete it in a quality fashion.  So pushing back is often a necessity.  There are three things that you can do to effectively push back on your boss (or whomever is continuing to add urgent tasks to your list).

First, you have to know the person you’re pushing back on so you know the best approach to take.  Are they data-driven?  Getting excessive pressures from their leadership?  Dealing with their individual set of unrealistic requests?  Knowing these things will help you know the best way to approach them.

Next, use this knowledge when you approach them.  For example, if your boss loves data, present him or her with data that supports your need to challenge what he or she is requesting.  At the same time, if they are getting excessive pressures from their leadership, present an alternative solution.  For example, perhaps your boss has given you the urgent task of investigating a customer issue.  The time it will take for you or your team to handle this will remove resources from another strategic priority your team is working.  While you share data that reinforces your limited resources, you can also present an alternative shift in your teams priorities that supports the latest request from your boss, or, ask your boss if the latest request can wait, based on the other urgent priorities your team is working.  The idea is to continue to show support for what your boss needs while at the same time remaining true to what you and your team can realistically accomplish.

Finally, request that your boss share his or her perspective while you continue to hold your ground.  After you present the facts to your boss, allow him or her to share their viewpoint on what you’ve presented.  Often times it will take you pushing back a few times before they are able to see your perspective.  Remember they are also dealing with their own feelings of overwhelm so their initial reaction to your confrontation may simply be an acknowledgement but not a shift in the request.  That’s why it’s important for you to hold your ground.   If you don’t and continue to take on more and more, eventually something will give and slip through the cracks.  Too many times, it’s you and your own physical or emotional health that suffers because you didn’t pull in the reigns.  As great a leader as you are, you are not supernatural (and neither is your boss). Keep things in perspective and remember that success does not happen if you are buried under a pile of folders feeling exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed.  Prioritize and pushback to prevent this situation.  By consistently doing this, eventually you begin to see your way out from beneath that never-ending list of urgent priorities. 

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