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How To Deal With Unreasonable People

Aug 17, 2007
Do you have an unreasonable boss? An unreasonable client? (An unreasonable spouse :) )

Someone who makes unreasonable demands of you - like expecting you to produce "impossible" results in unrealistic timeframes... without the people, time, budget or other essential resources to produce those results?

If you do, here's an approach for responding when they make unreasonable demands of you.

It's actually based on some advice I recently gave to a good friend of mine.

Basically, my friend is a C-level executive with a growing technology company, who reports directly to the CEO.

Now this CEO happens to habitually make unreasonable -- in fact, outlandish -- demands of his people. And true to form, he recently asked my friend to (in my friend's words) "fly to the moon... in a rubber dinghy."

My friend was tempted to tell the CEO "no" and that what he wanted was impossible.

A logical response perhaps. But also the type of response that would send this particular CEO into a spasm! (Like many CEOs, he's not the kind of fellow who takes kindly to the word "no.")

But the other drawback of my friend saying "no" or "it's impossible" was that it would never enable the CEO to see just how unreasonable his demands were, let alone actually provide the resources necessary to meet those demands.

So instead of saying "no", I advised my friend to take a totally different approach. I encouraged him to say: "Yes, here's what I need..." and then to actually list all the things he would need to make the CEO's vision come to life.

My friend objected, "He's never going to give me the money or the people to do that."

But I reassured him, "that's not your decision. It's his. Your job is to tell him what you need to produce what he wants."

In fact, an unreasonable boss or client is likely to have one of three reactions when you respond like this:

1. They'll see that what they've asked for is unreasonable, and lower their expectations.

2. They'll somehow give you what you need to do the job.

3. They won't believe you.

And if they don't believe you, they don't trust you - which is a much bigger problem than having a boss or client with unrealistic expectations!

So... next time someone asks YOU to do the impossible, don't say "no." Say, "Yes, here's what I need..." and simply list the requirements YOU have of your boss or client in order to produce the outcome he or she wants. (Just make sure that when you list these requirements you're being reasonable with yourself!)
About the Author
Anna Johnson is the author of the How To Manage People System, including her book, How To Manage People (Even If You're A Control Freak!). Get Anna's FREE 12-page report How To Be An Outstanding Manager - The 8 Vital Keys To Managing People Effectively
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