Handling annoying requests from your superiors at work

August 23, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Tips

A client wrote with a challenge. He does sales on commission. Some assistant managers, also on commission, ask him to do small tasks that take him off the sales floor, helping their chances for commissions at his expense. He mostly acquiesces to their requests. On the occasions he declined, he “lashed out,” showing intense emotions coworkers interpreted as mood swings.

His question touches on what happen in many places where people lash out when they don’t know what to do, so I’ll treat that aspect of it. Learning how to handle complex business and social situations applies everywhere.

I wrote him the following (slightly edited):

Lashing out and having mood swings go hand in hand with not knowing what to do or how to do it. When problems strike, people who know what to do and how calmly roll up their sleeves and do it. People who don’t know what to do or how, no matter how well-intentioned, freak out. Freaking out shows they don’t know what to do or how, so people avoid them. The greater someone’s experience and skills, the greater crisis they can handle calmly and effectively. That’s why companies pay more for experience.

More detail on your situation would help diagnose, but it sounds like you don’t see how to handle the situation. I’d bet you see these people more as superiors than as regular human beings. If a classmate asked you to do their homework for them you’d just say “Sorry, I’m busy and don’t have time for it. And you’re responsible for it anyway so you should probably do it.” If you’re calm. cool, and collected, you should be able to say something similar to any other human being.

Your context depends on whether those tasks lie within your job description or not. If not, you might say something like “I realize those tasks need to be done, but my job is to sell suits and that gets in the way of it. I’d like to help you personally, but I’m a team player and I’m paid to sell suits.” If it’s not busy and you have time, you could say “It’s not part of my job, but we work together and if you’ll do me a favor next time I’ll do you a favor this time.”

If those tasks are within your job description you may have to think harder about what to say or learn to accept or find value in these other tasks, maybe asking for a different compensation structure. If you see them as superiors more than people, you’ll have trouble, so I recommend seeing them as people first, positions in the company hierarchy second.

I wouldn’t blame them for asking you to do stuff for them, especially once you started doing things for them. If you comply, you imply you’re comfortable, maybe even happy doing it. They’d be stupid not to ask you again if it made you happy (as far as they knew), saved them time, and increased their commission.

If you’ve set up a pattern of doing these things you have the additional challenge of breaking that pattern without surprising them. You might preempt a difficult scene by approaching one or each of them before being asked and say something like

I’ve been thinking about these errands you guys ask me to do. I’m a team player and want the company to succeed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand they’re outside my job description. I’m paid on commission to sell, which benefits the whole company. In cases where doing those tasks interferes with sales, in the interests of the company and unless I misunderstand my job description, I’m going to have to decline in order to keep selling. When there’s no conflict, I’ll do my best to help you since we work together, though, and I’m sure you’ll be willing to help me sometimes too.

That’s long-winded, so customize it for your situation if it applies.

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