You already have way too much to do. Your boss phones, stops at your desk or emails you to ask for more. What can you do?
One thing you might want to do is say “no”. Or a slightly more sophisticated “I can do this if we stop or slow down that”. But you have a gut feel that neither of these are the right answer.
So what else could you do?
In recent coaching sessions with rising executives struggling with this very challenge, I found myself remembering a four directions in questioning model. I use this within the coaching skills training for managers that I offer:
When considering something, you can ask questions and enquire from four different angles to increase perspective and understanding, helping both you and your manager:
Angle Number 1 – History and The Past
- What have we done before or tried in the past?
- What did we learn?
Angle Number 2 – The Big Picture
- How does this fit in with the overall scheme of things?
- How does this sit alongside other priorities?
Angle Number 3 – Impact and Consequences
- What are the consequences of doing this/not doing this?
- How will this impact on others/other projects/priorities?
And potentially, most valuably of all:
Angle Number 4 – Assumptions and Mindset
- What do we see or believe to be true that may not be true?
- What do others (e.g. senior management, customers, other stakeholders) see or believe to be true that also may not be true?
You can listen out for assumptions too, in the way your manager speaks, for example when they use words like “must”, “always” or “non-negotiable”.
Sometimes we have a mindset (in this case possibly another assumption 😀), that we cannot challenge, or that we cannot challenge upwards.
Therefore it would not be appropriate to respond to a request (or maybe it even feels like a demand) to take on more work with a question.
My experience of working with very senior executives is that sometimes, in fact often, they are not getting challenged enough, and sometimes yearn for more!
Responding to a request with a question can allow you to add value to decision making. If you don’t, you are in the cascade and implementation of a poor one.
So, can you take this on board?
Can you use this next time you are reaching overwhelm with your workload and then more comes up?
To sum up: which of these directions in questioning appeals to you the most, and how can you frame your question next time you are in these shoes?
You might find your boss finds it the most useful thing you have done for them all week! 😀
Gill How loves to deliver work globally and internationally with managers, executives and professionals to help them to evolve, grow their leadership capability and stretch their strengths. She is a Master Executive Coach, Innovative Leadership Developer and avid walker in beautiful parts of the world! If she can help you in developing the potential of the professionals in your organisation, get in touch!
Join our EDI book/podcast club: This month we will be discussing the book “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X Kendi.
All are welcome! If you would like to join us and are not already on the email list, get in touch, and Gill will send you the zoom link!
Date and Time: Friday 29th September at 12.30pm BST (GMT+1) and Monday 2nd October at 5.30pm BST (GMT+1)
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