Advice needed! I want to tell my boss re: a particular ongoing project/responsibility (relationship I have to manage + reports I have to pull for it) that it’s my “least favorite thing I’ve ever worked on in my entire life” without saying it exactly like that LOL. What should I do/say?
Emma: I mean, why not go tell your boss, “Hey, quick thing, this project is the worst thing I’ve ever worked on in my entire life…’?” It’s what you have a boss for!
Andy: And that’s this week’s newsletter. See you next week, folks!
Emma: No, no we get it. There have been loads of times I’ve not told my boss I’m miserable. Like lots of us, I’m a Team Player, I’m not A Complainer, and besides, it’s not realistic to like every part of the job. What’s even the point in building up the courage to mention it?
Andy: We gotta say the words! We must all resolve not to suffer in silence. First step: admit it to ourselves. Then: we can figure out who to tell and what to tell them.
Emma: You are unhappy with the work. Telling your boss doesn’t mean they’ll change it, but not telling your boss means they definitely won’t. They have no clue what you’re feeling. You’ll be stuck where you’re at right now, doing the least favorite thing you’ve ever worked on in your life, until you strangle yourself with your own laptop charger just to make it stop. Or you’ll quit.
Andy: I love a scene in Treme where this chef from New Orleans goes to work for Éric Ripert in New York. She’s sad that she’s not in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and he *magically* notices her sadness from across the room, checks in with her, and tells her to take a night off for Mardi Gras. It’s so beautiful to watch, and it’s also fiction. Say what you need to say.
Emma: There’s a very real possibility that you’re suffering in silence unnecessarily. A solution might be one conversation away. Your boss might say, “Yeah, let’s cancel that.” Or, “Patty would love that project.”
Andy: The sheer possibility of that outcome is powerful enough to get me to vocalize any pain — even if just to hear confirmation that it’s impossible and never going to happen.
Emma: We have two options for how we’ve successfully approached your situation, or have had our direct reports approach us in a way where we didn’t want to roll our eyes.
1. Ask for What You Want
The first option is if you’re clear-eyed about the solution. If you know what you want, present that in some sort of mash-up of [Problem] + [Pain] + [Outcome].
It might sound something like:
Hey manager, the people I have to talk with on XYZ project are rude to me, and it’s really draining. Can we move account management to Kyle’s team?
Boss, I know I said I wanted experience working with architects, but I realize I haven’t accrued enough technical knowledge to be a very effective project manager. Will you help me with some solo training sessions for the next few months to help me get ramped up?
I’ve become really unmotivated by this work. Is there any way I can transition to this other team, at least part time?
Emma: I’m a big fan of asking for what you want. Of course, the pre-work here is to figure that out.
Andy: Once you know what you want, and ask for it, it’s really easy on the manager to give you a clear yes or no answer. They might not be able to answer it on the spot, but you’ve put them on the fast track to get there.
Emma: I also really like this phrasing because it’s impossible to say I’m not realistic — I’ve already come up with a new way of doing things. And I’m also not complaining. It’s not a complaint if there’s a problem and a solution.
Andy: When I don’t yet know what I want, I find that a 5 Whys Worksheet often gets me there.
2. Ask for Help
If you don’t know what your ideal outcome is, but you’re sick of being miserable, that’s okay! You can still talk to your boss about it. The key here is to avoid being arrogant and sullen — no one wants to give Veruca Salt a hand — and instead frame it as a request for help. The mad-libs here is [Problem] + [Pain] + [Ask for help].
Maybe it’s something like this:
It’s taking me 6+ hours a week to do XYZ and it’s really distracting me from the work I love. Can we talk through ways to lessen the load? I’m stumped.
We’ve gotta find a new way to do this report. I‘m dying over here! Can you help?
Emma: I quite like introducing my distress in a way that’s cheerfully hyperbolic. It conveys my true feelings without sounding tortured and stuffy: “I’ve prepared a presentation to show you why this is my very least favorite work of my life, next slide please.”
Andy: Totally agree. It’s human, it’s light-hearted, and it’s collaborative. It works especially well with managers who love process and operations. I’ve had managers say, “Wait, it’s taking how long!? Oh, no no no, of course you’re dying. Let’s figure this out,” as they diagram my misery on the whiteboard, and I loved them for it.
Emma: I said something in the vein of “I’m dying over here!” earlier this year to my current very wonderful boss on some work that was making me miserable. He responded: “Got it, let’s make it so you’re not doing that anymore,” then proceeded to take it off my plate about 8 weeks later. Hallelujah!
Andy: Yes! And what a perfect model for how to handle a query like this: Listen, acknowledge the pain, tell the truth about what can change, give context for what can’t, and follow through. If you don’t know all of the answers yet, split the steps up. Start by listening and acknowledging.
Emma: As a manager, it’s not possible to solve every problem a bummed-out report brings your way. There are lots of instances you’ll end up saying, “I’m sorry. This is how it is.” But solving the ones you can solve is one of the very best parts of the job.
Andy: You’re actually making someone’s life better! You get to be the person who says, “Great news, that worst part of your week, you don’t have to do that anymore.” And there’s no sentence more heavenly than that.
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Misery Edition