How to Work for a Boss Who Has Unrealistic Expectations

By Harvard Business Review
June 21, 2019

Try these approaches to gain better balance for yourself and strengthen your relationship with a demanding supervisor.

Every leader occasionally has unrealistic expectations. But some bosses are unrealistic most of the time — and there can still be a lot of pressure to comply with their demands.

boss unrealistic expectationsInstead of caving in or updating your resume, try these approaches:

MANAGE YOUR BODY: If your boss’s demands put you into fight-flight-freeze mode, calm yourself so you can take appropriate action. Using a simple anchoring practice, such as feeling the feet in your shoes, will calm the body and signal to your brain that you’re not actually in physical danger.

AGREE IN PRINCIPLE, THEN SHARE INFORMATION: Establishing that you and your boss are on the same page may give you the leeway to explain some practical realities. Describing the practical steps that you could take to get results that he wants and opening discussion with lead-ins like “Let me share a way I think we could do this with the least disruption” can facilitate the exchange.

SEND UP TRIAL BALLOONS FOR USABLE FEEDBACK: It’s unlikely your boss plans to be unrealistic or unfair. Keep checking to be sure you understand and are doing what your boss actually wants. Try something like: “I know you’re concerned about the risk of too much investment too quickly. Did I capture the scenarios and factors you’re looking for?”

GAUGE WHETHER YOU’RE GAINING TRACTION: Assess your boss’s style and approach to determine if you’ll get a better response by behaving proactively or reactively. A boss who indulges in flights of fancy, for example, might be brought back down to Earth by a staff that shares relevant information frequently and consistently.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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