Answering to a Demanding Boss

How NOT to Respond to a Demanding Boss

Demanding bosses don’t “take well” to people without the same sense of urgency, accuracy, and curiosity as they have. In last week’s blog “Confessions of a Demanding Boss — How to Manage Them,” I owned up to the label “demanding.” Although I don’t rant, rage, or ransack the office because I’m displeased with someone, I have been known to practice some of these questionable habits:

  • Dash into someone’s office at 5:00 p.m. to delegate a project for the next day
  • Ask a question as they’re walking out the door
  • Assign work projects that I needed done “yesterday”
  • Leave project scheduling to the employee’s discretion—as long as all things get done
  • Send an email at 3:00 a.m. (not expecting an answer at that hour!)
  • Demand accuracy in detailed work
  • Insist on meeting customer deadlines and exceeding their expectations

For reasonable ways to respond to these practices and manage the boss’s expectations, check out last week’s blog. I’m taking a different direction today. Unless you want to make matters much, much worse, skip these typical tactics.

The Definite DON’Ts in Dealing With a Demanding Boss 

Don’t Disregard the Boss’s Urgency

Granted, the boss may come to you with some things that are urgent––and some things that are not so urgent. The same body language may accompany all of his or her requests. Your body language and tone of voice need to match so that you display the same feeling of urgency—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can accommodate putting out all fires at the same moment. The boss wants to know that you understand the urgency to reassess your schedule in light of the latest project and mission.

The quickest way to tick a boss off is with a look that says, “I’ll get to it when I get to it.”

Don’t Delay About Delays  

Keep your boss informed. Just like the two-minute warning before the final buzzer in sports, a warning that says you may have a problem meeting a deadline or you’re facing a challenge getting budget approval on X may prevent a snowball effect.

Bosses often create this “delay” problem themselves by issuing this common line: “Don’t bring me a problem unless you have a solution in mind.” But that mantra tends to create a culture where employees think, “Okay, I’ll duck my head, and hide the problem”—until it becomes a disaster.

Given the choice of a problem or a disaster, any boss I know would prefer dealing with the problem. So don’t delay in informing a demanding boss about impending problems. That’s life. Deal with it—and their reaction to the bad news.

Don’t Play “What’s Yours Is Mine, and What’s Mine Is Mine”

Do you ever walk into your boss’s office unannounced or unscheduled to ask a question? Do you ever ask for further direction or discussion on an issue when it may not be convenient to your boss? Do you ever ask for time off unexpectedly to handle a personal matter? If so, consider the old adage “turnabout is fair play.” Another person’s “demands” are always in the eye of the beholder—er, uh, receiver.

Don’t Stuff It When Dealing with a Demanding Boss

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of, open the lines of communication wider. When you have questions about priorities, available resources, or expectations about standards or deadlines, ask rather than stew. Is XXX deadline really the boss’s deadline or your own? Is XXX the boss’s expectation or your own? Does the boss know that the X project will take 14 hours, or does he assume it will take two hours like it did last month?

Consider how much pressure is self-induced versus boss-induced because of little or no communication. Fear of the unknown is often worse than the thing itself.

If your boss is a poor communicator, assume the lead in that regard. Determine your goal for the conversation. Organize your thoughts. Formulate your questions and data. Choose an appropriate time. Then “have the talk.”

You may be surprised how reasonable a “demanding” boss can be once you agree on boundaries and learn to negotiate priorities.

For more help dealing with a demanding boss,  get 12 Communication Habits for Leaders by clicking BELOW.