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When will it be done? When? When? WHEN??!!!!

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  • When will it be done? When? When? WHEN??!!!!

    Friday morning my boss came up to me while I was at my desk speaking to another person and asked me if I had finished writing some sections of the works approval. He then asked when it would be done. He was angry and asking me in a demanding threatening tone, so I was stunned and eventually said I was going to do it on the weekend.

    He does this all the time and asks me when things will be done. How do I even work that out in the first place?

    I go back to my notes on the section - I have captured some of what he wanted me to do but not all of it. I start working. If I had to guess up front, I never would have guessed it would take this long. 8 hours later and I've done half of it. The stuff I promised to do over the weekend is not completed. Scared about going to work, as it is supposed to be reviewed with him today.

    How do I work out how long things will take and set reasonable and achievable deadlines. I can't just guess or he'll argue the number and say - no, it can be done faster than that, it has to be done by X.

  • #2
    Underpromise and overdeliver. However long you think it might take, double or triple it to give yourself some breathing room.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
      How do I work out how long things will take and set reasonable and achievable deadlines.
      Here is a formula I've used that is actually fairly accurate.

      Estimating Times to do projects

      Here's a good back-of-the-envelope estimate:

      L = least possible time the project could take (most optimistic)
      M = most likely time for the project to take (best guess)
      W = worst case for time project could take (most pessimistic)

      Obviously L < M < W

      Estimated time = (L+3*M+W)/5

      Then when I am setting a deadline that has monetary consequences (like to a boss or customer) I double that time.

      Comment


      • #4
        2 things

        Hi Suelin

        Tough spot to be in. I think there are 2 things here:

        1. estimating the best time and I like Oogie's formula. At least it'll give you a start and if the final figure seems low, then add an hour or two or whatever is relevant depending on the size of the job.

        2. Dealing with the manager - I have been in this situation - unfortunately as the boss! But even so, unless the boss is completely unreasonable, I'd offer the estimated time but also ask to speak to them about the working relationship. I'd also have it as a separate discussion too. Often when a staff member makes an appointment with the boss it sends a warning bell to the boss. They will be at least a little more receptive to the feedback, discussion when it occurs.

        From there you have to remain calm, state your position and how it makes you feel and then ask them how they see it. You want to stay factual and ask them to stay factual. Once emotion gets involved it's pretty hard to have a conversation. (again, from experience!).

        Hope that helps. Not an easy situation if they are like that all the time.

        Comment


        • #5
          Suelin -- I'm sorry you're going through this! You have my sympathy! I plan to post some suggestions within the next few days. Look after yourself!

          Comment


          • #6
            I would start by asking to meet with him. Doing it on the fly is not the best thing. Come prepared. Have a mobile device or note pad with basic points outlined and to also take notes with. Always start off with positives. "I appreciate working here and find we work well as a team." Then get into it a bit. "The other day I felt like I had let you down when it came to Project A. I'm wondering what I can do in the future to prevent that."

            You can leave it there and see what he says or you might have a suggestion like, "In the future can you tell me, upfront, when you will want something so I have a deadline?" Then the ball is in your court. If he says Friday you can think about that and let him know if that is possible. It may or may not be. If not, "Joe Boss, I would like to get that for you Friday but you've asked me for X, Y & Z to also be done. Can you help me re-prioritize so I give you what you want, when you want it?"

            Now, if he says you'll just need to work more, take work home on the weekend, etc., let him know that isn't possible and you only get paid for 40 hours or whatever. If that fails, get ready...go to his supervisor or if he is the top, look for another job.

            Of course if things are going well end the conversation with a positive..."Joe I appreciate you helped me with this."

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Suelin23 View Post
              Friday morning my boss came up to me while I was at my desk speaking to another person and asked me if I had finished writing some sections of the works approval. He then asked when it would be done. He was angry and asking me in a demanding threatening tone, so I was stunned and eventually said I was going to do it on the weekend.
              Look up "narcissistic personality disorder" and see if it applies to your boss. You may find ideas for techniques to help deal with him.

              Comment


              • #8
                I've had this problem before, and last time I thought I would try to estimate the time it would take to do the tasks, and realised I had no idea of how much time I take on things. So I got an iPhone app and started tracking my time. The major document in question just got issued for review, and looking back at my time log, it took way longer than I would have ever guessed. There was also a diagram in there that need lots of calculations done, and that diagram took 12.5 hours, and the main document took 50 hours. Now that I have some data I'll estimate better next time, but it's hard when you are doing new things you have no idea of how long they will take. Looking at my log I am suprised at how long things have taken, and not suprised now that I haven't been meeting any of my timelines.

                Comment


                • #9
                  All tasks with deadlines

                  I like Oogie's formula too. Mine is simpler - approximate time I think I need for the task, multiplied by 3. Having run engineering teams in a very hectic environment, it worked for me well.

                  I think, the trick is to have a deadline for each task. If the task is not critical to finish in 7-10 days, put it aside and re-visit in weekly review. If you have a deadline for each task, your boss will not need to ask.

                  If you discover that it will take longer, re-negotiate the deadline with your boss. I do risk management for projects, but it is overkill for tasks. I also apply "good enough" rule to any task: what is the ultimate outcome I want to achieve and what is the minimum realistic requirements to get it done. I can do research for 3 days or 3 hours. The question is, how can we do it well to ensure quality, but not get carried away?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hi, Suelin. Here are some suggestions, not
                    recommendations, because each one might make
                    things either better or worse, and you know more about your situation and
                    the people involved.

                    You can try not to reward him for using an angry tone of voice.
                    You reacted
                    by saying you'd do extra work on the weekend and then working really
                    hard over the next few days. This can influence him, either consciously
                    or subconsciously, to act in a demanding way in future.
                    Possibly he says, "I try not to talk angrily to my employees, but
                    I don't know what comes over me... I can't help it!" It's not an excuse --
                    he's ultimately responsible for his own behaviour --
                    but what comes over him could be subconscious conditioning from being
                    rewarded in the past for such behaviour.

                    Instead, you can either give him the same level of service regardless of his
                    tone of voice, or else give him better service when he talks in a way that's
                    nicer than what's been usual for him in recent months. If he says politely
                    "Would you mind doing this?" you can act the way you've been acting when
                    he talks in a demanding way: you can say rapidly, "I'll make it my top
                    priority!" and rush off and work really hard on it and try to get it to him
                    as soon as possible. If he acts demanding, you can still agree to do the work
                    but in a normal, calm way without any quick promises or extra-hard work.

                    I also have difficulty estimating how long it will take me to do things.
                    It's good that you're working on it in an organized way. You can try to
                    work out estimates for all your work, and for work that might be
                    assigned in future, before your boss comes and asks you.
                    You can have rules like "if it's something I've never done before,
                    always add one more extra week to the estimate." If your boss
                    asks you when, if you don't already have an answer
                    you can say something like "I'll work out a time estimate
                    and email it to you later today." You can decide that once you've said
                    something like that, you won't back down.
                    You can say to him "I'm sorry, but I don't have a time estimate for that
                    right now. I can get it to you later today." You can insist on adequate time alone to
                    think it over before giving him the estimate.

                    If you give him a time estimate and he argues and claims it can be
                    done faster, you can say "You may be right. Nevertheless, that is my
                    estimate." If he wants to write down his own estimate rather than
                    yours, that's up to him; but you don't have to make it your estimate.
                    If you do get it done faster, you can say to him "You were
                    right! It didn't take me as long as I'd thought." Also, when he argues
                    that it can be done faster, that might be a good time to discuss with
                    him what details he wants included, with the purpose of trying to find
                    out whether some things you think are necessary really aren't needed
                    and can be skipped.

                    Maybe you're following all the rules to avoid being
                    criticized, but maybe other workers cut a lot of corners, get criticized
                    occasionally for breaking rules, but are nevertheless
                    generally more appreciated because
                    they get stuff done faster. Or on the other hand, maybe in the long
                    run it's better to follow all the rules and the corner-cutters are going to get in serious
                    trouble at some point for some rule they break. It's hard to know.
                    Anyway, you could consider whether there are ways to do the work
                    faster. For example, suppose a report contains a sentence like
                    "We've received 12 emails about this" and you're tempted to spend
                    10 minutes finding and counting the emails again to make sure that's exactly true.
                    A faster alternative might be to change the sentence to
                    "We've received about 12 emails about this", or even just to delete
                    that sentence from the report. If your boss were right there you could
                    ask him whether you should bother spending the 10 minutes or not.
                    For some things, perhaps you could make a list, and give your boss
                    the report saying something like "Here's a preliminary version.
                    Which of these details is it worthwhile my taking the time to fill in?"
                    For something that takes 10 minutes it might be better to just do it
                    rather than put it on a list like that, but you might list things that
                    take longer, or group things into categories, e.g. "Re-check 8 numbers
                    in various sentences -- 5 hours." (Give an estimate that's longer than
                    you imagine it will take, because probably some of them will end up
                    taking longer than you expect.) It seems possible that what he really
                    wants is a shorter, simpler report with fewer details that takes less time
                    to prepare.

                    Some of the techniques I use are from Thomas Gordon's "Effectiveness Training" system, as
                    described in books such as "Leader Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon or
                    "Effectiveness Training for Women" by Linda Adams. If you want to use
                    those techniques it might be better to
                    practice them in interactions with family and friends first and/or learn
                    them by reading a whole book or taking a course rather than suddenly trying
                    a technique in a critical situation such as interaction with your boss when you're
                    not used to using them. I find these techniques indispensible (e.g. Active Listening,
                    I-messages and Switching Gears).

                    When he says "When? WHEN?" you can do Active Listening. That means using
                    empathy and trying to understand how he feels, his point of view and what his
                    underlying message is, encouraging him to express his message in more detail,
                    and showing that you understand. In Active Listening you need to read his
                    tone of voice and body language, not just his words.

                    Boss: When?!
                    Suelin (Active Listening): You really need it fast.
                    Boss: Yes, I really need it fast!
                    Suelin: I'll get on it right away.

                    or

                    Boss: When?!
                    Suelin (Active Listening): You really need it fast.
                    Boss: No! I need a firm time estimate that I can give the client, and that we can stick to!
                    Suelin: Ah. I'd better carefully think through the different parts of the project, and give you a carefully-calculated time estimate later today.
                    Boss: No -- the client is waiting on the phone! I need to know right now!
                    Suelin: OK, how about telling them six weeks just to be on the safe side? That way if I get it done sooner it'll be ahead of schedule.

                    In the first (fictional) example, the Active Listening is right on.
                    What happens more often with active listening is in the second example, where her attempt to understand is close but not exact. The person then usually reacts by expressing their message in more detail, because they can tell you're trying
                    to understand. For Active Listening to work, you can't just use pre-planned words or words that have worked on that person in the past -- you need to use an open mind and try to get the message from the person at that moment.
                    When done successfully, it tends to lead to the other
                    person calming down. If they get louder, it's usually because they're frustrated
                    because you didn't understand their message well enough, but then they usually
                    also give you more information when they get louder so it's easier to make
                    another attempt and show that now you understand, and then if you get it
                    right (or close enough) they tend to calm down.

                    I probably wouldn't set up a separate meeting to discuss tone of voice.
                    I would handle it by the way I react in the moment. If his tone of voice
                    is hurting you so much that you don't feel you can muster the empathy to
                    do Active Listening effectively, you can do an I-message instead,
                    in response to his loud question, e.g.
                    • I need to discuss this using calm voices.
                    • When you speak in that tone of voice I feel stressed, and then I can't think clearly.
                    • I'm uncomfortable when you use that tone of voice.
                    • I'm feeling stressed by your tone of voice, so I need to take a five-minute break to calm down, and then I'll be able to discuss this with you calmly.

                    When you do an I-message, the other person will probably react, and you need to be ready for this and if at all possible do Active Listening in response to their reaction, even if they get louder -- unless they're bothering you so much that you just can't muster the empathy, and then another I-message can be used. Switching back and forth between I-messages and Active Listening is called Switching Gears. When you demonstrate that you're willing to really listen to the other person right after your I-message, the other person is much more likely to be open to your message.
                    When you do the Active Listening, you (normally) don't take back what you said; you just
                    show understanding and empathy towards the other person.

                    Boss: When?!
                    Suelin (I-message): I'm uncomfortable when you use that tone of voice.
                    Boss: How dare you talk to me like that?
                    Suelin (Active Listening): Sorry, I didn't mean to sound critical.
                    Boss (triumphantly): Well, you did!
                    Suelin (Active Listening): OK, you win. Let's get back to what you were trying to ask me about just now. You want to discuss the works approval project?

                    These are just examples I made up. There are probably better examples in the books
                    I mentioned. The same words with a different tone of voice would usually require a
                    different Active Listening response.

                    As I see it, saying "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound critical" is not taking back
                    the original statement. It doesn't mean "Sorry -- I take it back." or "I was wrong".
                    It only means "I feel sorry that my message caused you to feel negative
                    emotions. My intention was not to claim there was anything inherently wrong
                    with your tone of voice, but only to inform you about my own feelings, that is,
                    the effect that tone of voice has on me."
                    It's a subtle difference.

                    I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Some relationships will never work.

                      Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                      Some of the techniques I use are from Thomas Gordon's "Effectiveness Training" system, as described in books such as "Leader Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon or "Effectiveness Training for Women" by Linda Adams. If you want to use those techniques it might be better to
                      practice them in interactions with family and friends first and/or learn them by reading a whole book or taking a course rather than suddenly trying a technique in a critical situation such as interaction with your boss when you're not used to using them. I find these techniques indispensible (e.g. Active Listening, I-messages and Switching Gears).

                      When he says "When? WHEN?" you can do Active Listening. That means using empathy and trying to understand how he feels, his point of view and what his underlying message is, encouraging him to express his message in more detail, and showing that you understand. In Active Listening you need to read his tone of voice and body language, not just his words.
                      I don't believe in changing adult people's behaviors except for traumatic events. And trying to change your boss's behavior is often a very bad approach based on expectations that will never come true. I think that some relationships will never work so there is no use to try to fix them.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by cwoodgold View Post
                        I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful.
                        Good coaching there!

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