How Can I Tell My Manager That His Request Is Not Doable?

This is one of the more common requests for help that I get from my network, “How can I tell my manager that his request is not doable without him getting angry with me?” Here is an example of a real situation, a professional freelancer I know is having a similar problem with a client, “He is asking me to prepare a report based on data that does not exist.”, She was frustrated, very frustrated with the situation.  I asked her, “Did you tell him that?”  She said no.  Does this sound like a familiar situation?Project management
Sometimes we are not really sure how to say something to somebody, that we do not share or express our thoughts with the other side, whether a client, a manager, or a colleague.  This is common among a certain type of personality more than other types. 

Reactive and Proactive people

One common personality that faces this problem more often than others is the “Reactive” personality,  they are the ones who are both highly exacting (perfectionists) and very relationship oriented (I call them stable type).  The reason this type has such challenge is that they are not direct in their interactions.  They keep things inside, so to speak.  So the reactive type might be angry with you and not tell you.  You know how sometimes we accept a couple of mistakes from friends because they are friends, but when these mistakes accumulate we get angry? well, the number of mistakes people can tolerate vary, from very low tolerance by the highly proactive personalities, to very high tolerance of the reactive personality.

back to the issue at hand, so what to do in this case? for the proactive personality the answer is very obvious, “Say it like it is.” In the example above, the proactive personality would say exactly what is on his or her mind: “Mr client, I am having a problem that I need your help with – the report cannot be written as there is not enough data to support it.” To them they get frazzled why the reactive keep this inside and not share how they feel.

So, if you are the reactive type, start countering that with a proactive style of bringing up issues as they are.  At least consider it.  Which means, ask yourself, “If I can say anything to the client, what would I like to tell him or her?”  then ask yourself, “why am I not saying this as it is to the client?”  The only reason might be that you are reactive and you prefer to hide how you feel as long as you can.

So go ahead and proactively bring this up with the client.  Be tactful and diplomatic as you wish but be clear.

The Other Side Must Be in the Picture

The sad alternative to this is that you might get stressed from holding things back for too long.  The other side might not even know you are distressed, so they will not back down or change.  And you are stuck with a tough situation.  what happens usually with the reactive type is that they end up at one point either withdrawing or bursting.  Withdrawing means they quit, without giving any reasons.  Which looks like a surprise action to their management or their client, but the way reactive person feels, it is better than confronting others. The bursting option is also not good.  The reactive ends up having enough and instead of bringing up the subject in a calm way, they get flustered and angry with the client and overreact all of a sudden.  Sometimes the burst comes over a silly issue, but the other side cannot tell that this has been simmering for a long time before the reactive burst.

These are not good scenarios, so if you are reactive you want to consider using a more direct proactive approach.  It helps with your personal growth, it is liberating, and builds self confidence.  Try it and tell me how it goes.

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