How To Push Back With A Demanding Boss
Having an overly demanding boss is a nightmare. Every boss thinks that what they’re asking of their employees is reasonable. They’re just asking for what they want done. They want their vision to come to life. But there are a lot of people out there, from CEOs to managers, who don’t actually understand the exact work that goes into what they’re asking for. They’ll ask employees to finish something in three hours that usually takes a week. They’ll give directions that they believe are clear enough, but that are actually full of holes. Then they’ll call their employees incompetent, simply for asking questions. I’ve had bosses like this. All of my friends have had bosses like this. The greatest bosses have usually worked the roles of those beneath them, so they truly have a grasp of what they’re asking for when they give out orders. But not all are like that. Here are ways to push back on an overly demanding boss.
Outline expectations in advance, and in writing
Your boss may try to just bark a big bundle of orders at you. Don’t let her. Ask for a brief meeting, during which expectations will be outlined in detail. It makes you look professional and like you want to respect your boss’ vision, but it also holds your boss more accountable. She can’t just yell, “Handle the website stuff” and expect you to go from there. She must tell you exactly what she wants done. Maybe it’ll show her that what she’s asking for is a lot.
Remind her nobody could do it better
Find small, subtle ways to remind her that this perfect employee that she believes is out there and could do your job better doesn’t exist. Find small ways to remind her of that one rock star employee who still made this mistake or that incredible professional who needed two months to accomplish the task she’s asking you to handle in two days. Just put that bee in her bonnet, that if she let you go, she’d be sh*t out of luck to find somebody better.
Repeat her words back, but differently
This is another method of displaying to your boss what it is that she’s truly asking for. So when she says, “Setup sales for those products” you say, “Okay so you’d like me to find a designer to design the packaging, research different vendors to find the lowest cost materials, hire someone to add a page to our website where people can make purchases, and essentially start a shipping operation.”
Take some initiative
Sometimes the only way to handle a “Mean girl” is by being a “Meal girl,” so to speak. What I mean is that, sometimes, when your boss asks you to do something in a way you know makes no sense and isn’t an efficient use of the company’s time or money, but you know a better way to do it, just do it your way. So long as she gets the results she asked for, she’ll actually be impressed (and a bit humbled) that your methods were the best for everyone.
Stick to your office hours
Outline your office hours early and stick to those. Ask that you’re only called after office hours if it’s an emergency. Other than that, don’t answer your work phone or email during the weekends or at night. This will actually force your boss to calm herself down when she’s throwing a tantrum, rather than just spraying it on you whenever she feels like it.
Keep a list of her rules
Write down every specific rule she gives you. There will be a time when she will get mad at you for just doing what you were told—for upholding one of her specific rules. You’ll be happy to be able to remind her of that when that time comes, so she knows you aren’t incompetent: you were actually following orders.
Ask for regular, detailed reviews
Ask for regular reviews—maybe quarterly or even at the end of each month. This helps because it means your boss can’t just yell at you whenever she feels like it, giving no truly productive or helpful notes. It forces her to formulate her feedback into words everyone can understand, and that are helpful. If she just has anger issues, that will become apparent when, come time for that review, she has nothing to say—she hasn’t prepared anything. So then what has all that yelling been about all month?
And ask for HR to be present for those
Ask that HR be present for those reviews. This will also keep your boss in check. If she knows this reviews are coming, she’ll feel embarrassed about yelling nonsensical criticism at your at any given time because HR can say, “Just write it down for that monthly review.” And if she berates you, HR can talk to her about appropriate office behavior.
Ask for a raise if it’s warranted
It’s common for bosses to push limits, and slowly ask you to do more than you were hired to do, without giving you a pay raise. If you see this happening, ask for a raise. Say you’d be happy to take on that work but because it will require more time and brainpower, you’ll need to be compensated. You can even look up average salaries of those who do what you’re being asked to do for a reference.
Reference your job description
You have your original job description somewhere. Keep that. When you’re asked to do something that isn’t in there, gently reference that job description.
Alert her when further education is required
Again, not all bosses really understand what they’re asking for. Your boss may ask you to do something that would require you have the command of a software that you never said you had when you were hired, and that you’ll need to take a class on. Say you’d be glad to do that task but will need to be trained in the software, if that’s something the company is willing to pay for.
Alert her when a qualified professional is required
Some bosses expect you to be a jack of all trades, and that’s not fair. For example, your boss may ask you to crunch numbers and project sales and expenses but…you’re the social media strategist. You’re not an accountant. Don’t be afraid to say, “That requires a special skillset of a specific professional. I’d be happy to help you find an accountant for that job.”
Don’t crumble in the face of her anger
Often, overly demanding bosses just have some anger issues. They, sadly, enjoy watching people cower in the face of their anger. If they notice that you tremble, they’ll enjoy it and yell at you more. So don’t flinch. Keep a straight face. Act as if you’re watching paint dry.
Use humor to diffuse a situation
Humor is a great, easy way to relax everyone, and show your boss that she’s being unreasonable, without outright saying so. So, if your boss asks you to essentially build a website and you are, again, not that type of professional, you can say, “Well I’ve never built one but I designed my MySpace page pretty well. Does that help? Otherwise we can hire a real website designer.”
If necessary, speak to HR
If push comes to shove, HR is there for a reason. You do not need to tolerate emotional and verbal abuse. You don’t need to be made to feel incompetent and overwhelmed, all because a boss is asking you to do work that is far beyond your job description. Yes, it may make things uncomfortable but, you don’t need to be friends with your boss.