Decision Making

How to Handle a Request From Your Boss You Don’t Agree With


I once overheard a phone conversation that wasn’t going well.

The woman in the cubicle next to me clearly did not agree with a request from her manager and her response went from,  “I don’t think this is a good idea,” to  screaming about how stressed she was and how she “understood how her manager had to play office politics.”


The above is an extreme case of how not to handle a request from a superior or a manager, but many of us also make the wrong moves in this situation. Here is how NOT to deal with this type of situation:

Don’t Be Reactionary.  When my former colleague got that request, via email, she let out a huge sigh, yelled “How can they expect me to do this?!” and then picked up the phone to call her manager. Now, I’m a huge fan of the phone to discuss this topic and many others, but doing that boom-bang-boom of immediately picking up the phone when you’re heated doesn’t bode well for the  outcome. Instead, take deep breaths, remind yourself that you can give yourself a few–or 15–minutes to respond and that the world will not implode.  I remember  receiving emails so infuriating that I’d actually feel a jolt of anger go through my body or I’d turn red. I learned that those were precisely NOT the times to reply to something. If the request is delivered in person request or in front of a group in a meeting, politely say that you’d like to think about the idea and get back to them, and name a specific time such as the end of the day.

Don’t Rely on Histrionics. Blaming stress, office politics, Mercury in Retrograde, whatever, for not wanting to do this task or not thinking it’s a good idea will not get you anywhere. That’s the honest truth. Everyone is overstretched and busy. Everyone tires from time to time of the office politics game. Not sure about Mercury, but calling out that you’re stressed in a  frazzled tone of voice is absolutely not going to win your case for why you don’t believe the task or project should be prioritized in the first place. Remember, it was because it wasn’t good for the strategy of the company?

Instead, before you respond or pick up the phone or head back to your manager’s office to state your case, lay out the reasons why you don’t think this is a good idea. Make sure they are based on facts only and tied to the overall strategy of the company. For example, if the request will take half  your workweek and you think that time would be better suited to reaching the company’s year-end sales goal. If you’re clearly stating that what you think is best to work on will more directly serve the company goals, your manager will likely praise you for your vision and prioritization skills, rather than think you’re a frazzled spazball of negative energy.

Don’t Be Hypocritical.  I’ve seen people repeatedly resist requests because they say they don’t have time, but then they’re coming into the office at 10 or 11am and taking a long lunch break every day. Be mindful of your behavior and patterns and remember that people pay attention to those things. So when you push back on a request, you’re more likely to get this inner monologue from the other person: “Right and I see him online shopping all day on his computer, so I TOTALLY don’t believe it” versus “Maybe Sally has a point here and we need to consider alternatives.”

Don’t Carry The Torch. Sometimes decisions are out of your control. Once you calmly state your reasoning in a non-reactionary way, your manager may still ask you to do it. Maybe the reason is still not good, but maybe there’s something you don’t know. Whatever the case, spending more time having angst over it is taking away from the goal you want to reach (in our example here, meeting the sales goal) and you’re not doing anything and wasting more time and energy on it! So after standing your ground and stating your case for the record, just go do it.

About the Author

Jill Ozovek is a certified career coach in New York City. Her practice focuses on helping Millennial and mid-career women find and develop careers that align with their passions. For more info on your own career change and Jill’s Career Change Kitchen course, click here.