Your manager walks into the office on Wednesday afternoon, puts a folder on your desk and says: “Please have this done by 10 a.m. on Friday.”
Just by looking at the size of the paperwork, you know that it will take at least three days to work through it, so you respond: “I’m afraid I can’t do that, it will definitely take me a lot longer.” But your manager looks at you coldly and says: “Yes, you can,” before turning around and leaving.
You start to panic. You want to please your boss, but that also means having to work through the next two nights. You will most likely make mistakes due to fatigue. But on the other hand, you’re afraid your boss will think you’re not capable and unprofessional when you have to tell him on Friday that you couldn’t meet the deadline.
This is a tricky dilemma, but not an uncommon one. So, we asked a business coach and author, Felix Maria Arnet, about how to best deal with a situation like this.
Leading with fear is never the right option
For a boss not to allow employees to have a discussion with them about their workload shows a lack of empathy, Arnet explained. A better manager would have discussed how to achieve the ambitious goal together and would have asked, for example, what resources can be provided in the process.
“A manager who leads by means of fear should take a moment to reflect and ask themselves whether their leadership style really suits their employees,” Arnet said. “In my opinion, the word ‘fear’ should never be used in relation to leadership, because people should do their work with motivation and pleasure.”
Employees are also partially to blame
But Arnet is also convinced that an employee who frequently allows themselves to be put into such situations by their superior is also partly to blame.
“If an employee has previously never spoken up for themselves in these situations, they are allowing their managers to treat them a certain way without expecting any resistance,” he said. “If the manager had known that an employee would have clearly expressed his or her objection, he might not have given them such a task in the first place. And if the manager did, I am convinced that this is a person who is not fit for a leadership role.”
The task could, of course, also be some sort of test. Perhaps the manager wants to see how far they can push the respective employee. In this case, the employee should defend themselves even more in order to not set a precedent.
If your boss just leaves you with a lot of work and no time to respond can be a difficult situation. The question is whether you are confident enough to go after them to let them know it doesn’t work that way. If you choose to do that, you will have to rely on polite, level-headed communication, as is expected in a professional environment.
“It is important to meet your demands constructively. Don’t simply reject them, but offer a compromise,” Arnet said. “This can be done the moment the conversation happens. But if at that moment, you feel too emotional, you should first reflect on the situation and think of arguments and proposed solutions and perhaps make a few notes.”
The business coach added: “You can also sleep on it for a night, but be careful — don’t allow too much time to pass. If you are looking for a conversation, I recommend that you make it clear right at the start that you have found a viable alternative that you would like to propose.”
You should also make it clear that you will personally take care of organizing the alternative solution or have already done so, in an effort to not place any additional burdens on your manager, who may already be stressed. Nevertheless, don’t be too considerate — express your thoughts freely.
Know your rights
“As an employee, you have certain rights and when you claim them, it doesn’t mean you’ll be fired immediately,” Arnet said. If you too scared to communicate these rights directly, there may be other ways, like speaking to a compliance officer or someone in the human resources department where complaints can remain anonymous. “If reports are received there, it is always very unpleasant for a manager,” Arnet said.
It is, of course, difficult to convince a manager that he or she is in the wrong. But you could try, for example, to find other colleagues who have had similar experiences with them and then communicate these issues together in a team meeting. Every manager will have to realize that fear is not the best motivator.
This post originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German.