Case study: How to push back on difficult demands

Dean’s boss is driving him up the wall. Although Dean’s workload is already massive, Cass has handed him yet another ‘urgent’ report to do. How can Dean convince his boss that her demands are unreasonable?

There’s only one thing for it – Dean needs to be assertive. He needs tell his boss there’s an issue so she can understand his position. Here’s how we’d help Dean deal with this problem. You can use the same strategies to negotiate priorities with your boss.

Be solution focused

Rather than focussing on what the problem is (his boss’s unreasonable demands) Dean should focus on ways to sort out the situation. Then he can approach the Cass with an action plan, rather than a list of complaints. To open the conversation, Dean could say ‘I want to do a really good job. To help me do this, I’d like to talk over a few ideas about adjusting my about my workload.’

Frame the conversation

There’s a good chance that Cass is also overworked and over-stressed. Although Dean needs to get the issue sorted quickly, he also needs to pick his moment. Dean can prepare his boss for the conversation by emailing her beforehand. It’s also a good idea to get his boss onside early on. Dean can achieve this by using a bit of empathy. For example, he can say ‘I know you’re busy. I won’t keep you long.’

Provide evidence of the problem

Dean need to have and figures to back up what he’s saying. What projects is he currently working on? How many hours are they each taking up? In what way are his deadlines too tight? Dean should keep his data short and sweet – Cass won’t appreciate a long lecture. The evidence needs to drive the discussion towards solutions, not become the sole focus of the conversation

Illustrate consequences and clarify priorities 

One way Dean can demonstrate that his workload is a problem is to spell out the consequences of competing priorities. For example, he can point out that working on an urgent report, means he has to stop working on an important project. He needs to highlight the difference between urgent tasks and critical ones. Urgent tasks have tight timelines. Critical ones impact on results. Dean needs to show the benefits of focusing on his critical jobs. He also needs to highlight the downside of wasting time on ‘urgent’ tasks which don’t contribute to the bottom line.

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