how to say “that won’t work” without seeming like the office Eeyore

By popular demand! When I wrote last month about tough work personalities, including people who naysay every idea, a bunch of people asked for advice on how to raise legitimate concerns without seeming like you have negative spin on every new suggestion.

You can bring problems to the surface without getting a reputation for being the office Eeyore. You just need to be careful and thoughtful about how you do it. Here’s how:

  • Ask questions. Instead of “we can’t do X because of Y,” try asking, “How do you think we could handle potential issues from Y?” Of course, make sure you say this in a genuinely collaborative tone; you don’t want your manner to convey “Y is obviously insurmountable.”
  • Say something positive about the idea you’re shooting down. You can often soften criticism by noting a genuinely valuable element within the idea, as long asyou can do it without being obviously insincere. For example, “It would be great if we were able send all the interns to the conference in Las Vegas! I bet they’d get a lot out of attending, and would appreciate being included. I think it would be tough to budget for it though, since we’re already a bit over what we’ve allocated for the event, but I really like that you’re thinking about ways to ensure they feel like part of our team. Maybe we can look for ways to do more of that, even of we can’t send them on travel.”
  • Suggest modifications. There might be good reasons to point out that something isn’t practical, but you’re less likely to seem like a chronic naysayer if simultaneously suggest modifications that could make it work. Or, if you can’t think of any reasonable modifications that would make an idea more feasible, it can still help to simply say, “But I wonder if there’s some way to modify this to get around those issues.” In other words, you’re not saying “nope, we can’t do it”; you’re playing more of a collaborative role and saying “let’s look at how we might be able to make it work.”
  • Frame your concerns as setting the idea or project up for success. Instead of“We can’t do that because of X,” try framing your input as “One thing I think we’d have to figure out is how we’d handle X.” For example, “To give this the best chance of success, let’s figure out what could go wrong so we can avoid those things. For instance, I could see one possible roadblock being X. Do you have thoughts on how we could avoid that?”
  • Pick your battles. If you know that you tend to end up being the check on others’ ideas, give people more breathing room when the stakes are low. If you think something isn’t a stellar idea but it’s not likely to damage anything, cost large sums or money, or create opportunity costs by drawing lots of energy away from more worthwhile projects, it might make sense to hold your objections. And who knows, it might turn out that the idea goes better than you thought it would!

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. kristinyc*

    I use the “Ask questions” method a lot. I do a summer program mentoring teenagers who are coding phone apps/creating business plans in teams, and when they come up with ideas that I know aren’t going to work or that they wouldn’t be able to execute (hey, the program’s a competition! I want them to win!), I ask them a lot of questions in the vein of “That’s interesting! But if we do that, how would it affect ____?” , “Cool! But where would {whatever data} be stored/come from?”, “So what are the steps we’d need to take to execute this?” etc.

    I keep asking questions like that until they work out on their own that it won’t work (or, in some cases, they even figure out a way to make it work that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own!)

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      That sounds like an awesome program giving them valuable real world experience and skills!

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I feel like, “If we do X, how would it affect Y?”, is probably one of the most important questions to be asked. There are lots of times when doing something unknowingly affects other areas and it creates a lot of problems. This happened to me many times early on in my career. Usually I was the cause of it. Later on, I was the one affected. Not fun!

  2. Kvaren*

    “Say something positive about the idea you’re shooting down.”

    Managers who are good at saying no via the bad news sandwich (positive/negative/positive) can really mess with your head. I’ve left the office on more than one occasion thinking, “Why was I perfectly ok with everything he just said?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I don’t recommend the feedback sandwich at all. But what I’m talking about in this article isn’t about giving feedback on performance, just about recognizing something good in another person’s idea.

      1. Awkially Socward*

        Yes, I was floundering on a clinical placement many years ago, and my supervisor had such confusingly misleading feedback sandwiches that it convinced me I was actually doing okay.

        I ended up losing out on 8 weeks of fulltime work as I had to resit the placement.

      1. Observer*

        Sure. But the point is not to turn a no into a yes, but to signal that the no is not about oblivious negativity. Also, to signal that you do understand where the other person is coming from.

  3. LQ*

    I do a lot of saying positive things like “It has been my dream to do that for a long time but we don’t have the tech to do that. I’ve tried, I’m still trying, some day I hope to come up with a solution, but I can’t yet.”

    Do you have any other thoughts about the it is not technically possible problem? I do my best to come up with suggestions, work arounds, and alternatives but sometimes the answer is just no. Either not allowed (depending on the person I’ll tell them who is making it not allowed) or not technically possible with our current tech (again depending on who I will tell them the solutions/cost potentials).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, just be straightforward and explain why! Reasonable people will understand, assuming that it’s against a backdrop where you have generally positive relationships.

      1. LQ*

        I’ve worked very hard to have positive relationships so it is good to know that just saying no is ok. I’ve never gotten much pushback from anyone. (One recently but I don’t think I did anything wrong, their boss didn’t, their director didn’t and my director didn’t so I’m going with I did my best and wasn’t out of line on that one.)

    2. PlainJane*

      I would add: be absolutely sure it isn’t possible before saying so. I work in technology. Many times someone has made an offhand comment to me that they were told something wasn’t possible (usually because “central IT said no”). I offer to verify that, and it turns out there is a way to do it. Sometimes that’s because policies and/or capabilities have changed, and sometimes it’s because the question wasn’t asked the right way the first time (“Can we install [problematic program]” rather than, “Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve/the goal we’re trying to achieve. Can you help us do that?”). Also, sometimes policy decisions can be revisited. Maybe the answer was no last year, but now that there’s another request/need, we might be able to rethink that.

      1. LQ*

        I do try to be very on top of it (we have a central IT that I don’t even have access to so it is very layered and structured so sometimes the answer is …Maybe but no one will even talk to us about it. Is this important enough to go to Big Boss with to push? Which is a conversation I usually try to have with the right person, not always the whole room full of people.)

        And sometimes the answer is “Not unless you send me to a training so I can learn how to do this or hire a vendor to do it.” which is effectively a no but with some people feels more aggressive than an “I’m sorry, we can’t do that right now.”

        1. Owl*

          For your last comment, maybe phrasing it as “we can do this, but only if you send me to training or hire a vendor” would seem less aggressive. That is, putting it as a “yes, but” sounds more positive than a “no, unless.”

          1. LQ*

            The problem that I would see with that is when no one in the room has the authority to make that happen (and especially when I know the people with authority to make it happen don’t want it to). Though I do think that I can try to latch onto something there. The “yes, but” part of it. Even if that is sometimes “yes, but you have to get Big Boss to be on board.” If they already know he isn’t and are trying to end-run that would also stop them but might sound more positive at least on my end.

      2. hbc*

        Maybe off-topic, but on the not-asking-the-right-way, this kept happening to me this week:

        Colleague 1: “This program won’t work for us because it’ll only work on one IP address.”
        Me: “That’s fine, let’s put it on the server. Then you can remote into it and both use it when needed.”
        Colleague 1: “The company said no, it could only go on one computer.”
        Me: “Yes. The server is a computer. We’re just using *one* computer that you both have access to. Unless the program shuts down if you have it on Server 20xx or something.”
        Colleague 2: “I’ll call and check into it.”

        An hour later, Colleague 2: “They say we can only have it on one computer.”
        Me: “….”

        Going with Alison’s last option in the article (though technically they were the naysayers), I stopped arguing and let them find another equivalent program.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Sometimes the answer is we have to watch them wrestle with something needlessly. Not the answer we want, but there it is.

        2. nofelix*

          Haha, I’ve had this kind of thing before and it’s so so frustrating. My theory is it’s something to do with some people having more or less rigid framing for problems. You’re proposing seeing the problem in a different way, and they haven’t picked up on that. On the other hand, people who rigidly address problems directly seem to be have an advantage by being quicker to act and clearer about what they’re doing.

      3. Koko*

        My preferred approach is three stages of working through a solution:

        Stage 1: Ideally, what would we do, and how would it work?
        Stage 2: What limitations prevent us from being able to do the solution generated in stage 1? Can they be worked around? How?
        Stage 3: Is the solution generated in stage 2 worth it? What’s the expected benefit, and how much time and resources will we have to invest to get it?

  4. AdminSue*

    I am good at asking questions, but not so good about saying something positive about something that I know won’t work. I can always improve myself!

  5. Student*

    I have this problem. I have a PM with expectations that are not realistic, and he’s also very disconnected from the day-to-day work of the project. I’ve been the “party of no” too often and now he just tunes me out and keeps on firing off illogical requests. Everyone else on the ground agrees that the requests make no sense, but they won’t back me up or say no themselves. They just keep letting things fail over and over, repeating the same mistakes again and again (and then they hide the failures from him as much as possible).

    I don’t know how to fix it. I tried rallying support so that I’m not the only one pushing back, and they’re all convinced that talking to him will do no good. I’ve tried figuring out how to repair relations with the PM so that I’m not “Eeyore”, but I can’t get him to pay attention to anything I say at all now. He won’t engage with me enough to really do any of these. The other people on the ground level are pretty much resigned to the project being a failure. At this point, it seems so hopeless that I’m jumping projects.

    1. LadyMountaineer*

      Is this a tech PM?

      Could you sit down and have coffee with your PM (sometimes it helps to get out) and ask what the scope of this project really is? Does s/he have an ideal project outcome?

      I would phrase it like this “I’m trying to keep everyone focused and they feel like they are shooting for a moving target. Could you please help us by providing some organization around that? Could you please make sure that requests that come in actually help us meet our goal?” I steep these requests as ‘hey PM I need you to do PM things and quit spinning things up.’

      1. Student*

        When I say “he won’t engage with me”, I mean that he really won’t engage with me. There’s a twenty-day wait time to get a one-on-one meeting with him, which makes dealing with immediate problems impossible. When I do get these meetings, he requires that someone else be in the meeting at the same time, so it’s hard to get him to listen to me at all (and these meetings are subject to interruptions, literally every 5-10 minutes). He hasn’t responded to my emails in ages, no matter the topic. On the rare occasion he does respond, it’s often not an actual response with helpful information (vague sentence fragments, redirects toward someone else, ducking the issue entirely).

        In group meetings, I’ve tried asking him to prioritize tasks. He either refuses to do so (“They all need to get done by (mutually-exclusive deadline),” or he adds more tasks that need to happen rather than paring things down and prioritizing. Occasionally, when he does try to sort out a conflict, he’ll give different information individually to a bunch of different people, so we’ll all confer and find out we have conflicting marching orders that we don’t even know about.

        I don’t think he wants to PM at all. He hates conflict, hates prioritizing, and has too much other stuff going on to do his PM job substantively. For some reason that I do not understand, he won’t just pass the torch to someone else on the project who’s actually involved (anyone! really doesn’t need to be me, there are several reasonable choices).

        At this point, it’s so far from reasonable that I’m out. As soon as I can get a meeting with him to tell him. >.<

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yeah, there’s not a lot you can do in this situation. Some people just don’t like the fact that reality exists outside the way they wish it was instead, and they’ll punish anyone who reminds them of that.

        2. LadyMountaineer*

          Definitely GTFO! Please don’t tell me you use Agile and he has missed weekly planning and retrospectives in addition to daily standups (which he should be popping into sometimes with a Scrum Master.)

          1. Student*

            Ahahah, I love software developers. I wish we had management a little more like the IT industry.

            No, we’re a science facility, not mainly coders. He often doesn’t come to weekly meetings for a solid month at a time (roughly 25-50% of the year he’s unavailable, I’d guesstimate). Daily team meetings are inconceivable. I can go multiple months with no contact from him. Then he’ll pop in, do the PM equivalent of flipping over the table, and disappear before one can raise an objection.

            I’d love to actually talk to, or even just see or hear my boss on a weekly basis. That’d be amazing. Then maybe he’d know things like who works on the project, and have some clue what it is we’re doing, and he might notice that the world is burning. Literally, our teapot was on fire earlier this month, and I don’t even know if he’s aware of that.

        3. SusanIvanova*

          Wow. Our PMs preferred to have offices near us so we could just pop over and talk to them when we had problems or questions. When some higher-up decided all PMs should sit near each other “so they could collaborate” – despite working on completely unrelated projects – ours staked out the “hotelling” cubes near us as secondary offices where they spent most of their time.

        4. nofelix*

          This sounds a lot like a worse version of my boss. Techniques I’ve found that work well are:

          1. Instead of asking him to prioritise tasks, list the order you will do the tasks and how long they will take. Make your best guess at what order he will want. He can then modify as needed.

          2. I combine this with diagrams to show scheduling. It’s a lot harder to say “Do X this week” when there is clearly a big task already occupying the whole of the week.

          3. If he gives different orders then just interpret that to mean “any of these is okay” and do what you think he’ll like best when he reviews the work. If he complains you can rightly say he authorised it.

          4. Focus on what will help you stay happy and don’t try to ‘fix’ him beyond that. Ideally he would manage properly, but given that’s unlikely what would make you happiest? For me, having the tasks written clearly so that the incompatible deadlines were indisputable made me feel a lot better when they weren’t met, and shifted the discussion past “Why has everything I wanted not happened?”.

          5. Instead of saying no, say yes followed by asking how to deal with the consequences. Sometimes I say “Okay, and if they’re too busy to meet that deadline… [long hmm]…” and he’ll step in to say that actually failure is acceptable or can be mitigated somehow.

          6. I wouldn’t try using your colleagues to help. Your boss likely knows he does not have everything in control and ganging up on him won’t improve things. Instead, take things off his plate.

    2. NicoleK*

      I feel for you. Former coworker loved to throw out crazy, illogical ideas. No one else said anything so I ended up being the one to tell her that it wasn’t do able, workable, within the scope of the project.

  6. TootsNYC*

    Eisenhower supposedly asked people to go work up a budget for stuff they proposed that he didn’t want to do. They’d come back and say, “it’s too expensive, never mind.”

    1. Artemesia*

      When a manager is going to say no, cooling out the project by requiring lots of paperwork when it is going to be ‘no’ regardless is demoralizing. We all know that ‘let’s study that’ or ‘give me a report on that’ is often just an organizations way of saying ‘no’. If the answer is ‘no’ don’t give me busy work, just tell me.

      1. Charity*

        I agree. It’s one thing to help them think through the feasibility if there is a chance that they can come up with a viable approach, but if you know that you will reject anything they say no matter what it’s better to just let them know up front. Pretending like their points are being considered when they really aren’t ends up causing more hard feelings than being an “Eeyore”, and it’ll probably discourage people from suggesting any ideas at all in the future.

      2. nofelix*

        In the Eisenhower example, if they were independently able to work out it was too expensive then they shouldn’t have come to him in the first place. That’s a vital part of a feasibility study, not busy work.

  7. Cath in Canada*

    Identifying potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios seems to be a default option for me. It drives my husband and some of my friends a bit batty, but it comes in useful at work (project management in academic research). Project management includes risk management, after all, and most scientific proposals include a “potential pitfalls / alternative approaches” section, to show that you have a plan in case your initial methods and hypotheses don’t work out for whatever reason. So everyone at my work thinks and talks like this all the time – although usually with a polite positive spin, as suggested in the article, which does read as very Canadian ;)

    I’m not sure if our training makes us that way, or if people like us are drawn to this kind of work, but either way, it’s a common trait in my office! I just need to remember to tone it down when I’m not with My People :)

  8. Stranger than fiction*

    Unfortunately, the office Eyores here are upper management. They’re change adverse and/or a tad paranoid if they have tried something (10+ years ago) and it didn’t work, they think there’s no use trying again. It’s beyond frustrating. It’s like what if we actually succeeded? Would that really be so bad?

  9. VX34*

    It’s really easy to not be seen as an Eeyore by having an open mind, thinking critically, and exploring options and possibilities.

    Unfortunately, doing *those* things are difficult, if not impossible for some folks, so it’s much easier for them to resist any and all changes.

    1. Grapey*

      In my experience, someone that wants to explore options treats those options as the “real way to do things” to one team, but other teams get left out of the loop. Change control is a definite requirement in fast moving companies.

      Thinking critically also involves thinking about ALL the players your changes can affect, not just your immediate team. Too many “great changes” went awry in my company when nobody thought about people downstream from the change.

  10. Violet_04*

    I work in software development. If I get a request for a crazy requirement, I don’t say “no” right away. I’ll work with my team to quantify the impacts. Usually this comes down to how long it will take and how much it will cost. Seeing the impact in numbers helps start the discussion about alternate solutions and what is actually needed vs. a “nice to have”.

    1. nofelix*

      Yeah, costing something is the easiest way to say no. And it’s useful if the idea gains more advantages later, you already know how much it is.

  11. College Career Counselor*

    I think even asking the questions has potential for damage, depending on whose idea it is and how that person views anything other than complete and utter agreement. I have been in situations where I’ve been asked for feedback on Chocolate Teapot University Alumni-Student Networking and have been criticized for pointing out that we’d need to educate/train students on how to use the system as well as manage alumni expectations. Anything less than “oooooh, that’s fabulous just the way it is!!!eleven!!” was construed as nay-saying and not being a “team player.”

    Don’t hire me for my expertise and knowledge, explicitly ask me for my professional opinion and then punish me for doing what you asked.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      I didn’t know you worked for my old boss. ;)
      I got hired for my expert level of knowledge and then every little thing I suggested was wrong or just dropped off into a void. And if I even whispered that something was wrong I was immediately disconnected from anything to do with it.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Yes, that sounds quite familiar! This particular boss also had a nasty habit of commissioning “big ideas” from staff, rarely/never green-lighting them, and then castigating people for not being “visionary” or “productive.” With some managerial gas-lighting thrown in for good measure (see, if the idea was any GOOD, you’d be able to implement it regardless of the obstacles).

        When staff inevitably moved on (left of their own accord or were pushed out), somehow those ideas were suddenly implemented, with the previous person characterized as someone who “just couldn’t get the job done.”

  12. Analyst*

    I can be an eeyore as I have a very sound mind for logistics and reasonability. Waaaaay back when I did concierge work, I learned a concept of “letting the customer be the one to say no.” As in, instead of telling them no, we don’t have availability the exact day/time they want to come in, I’d frame my response that lets THEM be the ones to say no:

    “That particular time slot is full, but we have availability at X time instead; are you free then? Or how about the following day at Y?

    I use this all the time when I’m in on a brainstorm session that’s going sideways, by asking simple questions about if we can do this thing, change that policy, get our system administrators to do such-and-such an upgrade, etc. So I can feed my need to point out all the mountains that need to be climbed and get the brainstormer to come back down to earth for a minute and think certain things through with me. Sometimes there ARE ways around the mountains I see that I didn’t know about. Other times, the mountains are just too big and thankfully I have agreement on that point.

    1. MaryMary*

      I came here to post that article! I work with a lot of sales people and account executives, so I spend a lot time trying to convince people it’s better to under promise and over deliver than the opposite. Stop saying “sure, we can do that!” without checking to see if it’s something we can actually do, and if the client asks if we can get them something by Tuesday, stop telling them we’ll have it to them tomorrow.

      1. Monday*

        I absolutely agree with that approach, and use it even as an employee. Sometimes I get the sense that people wish I would just say “Sure! You got it!” to everything, but after working with me for a while I think they realize that it’s more valuable to know that I’ll actually do what I say I will do, 100% of the time. And as you say, sometimes you get it done early, under budget, or whatever, and that’s great. So the only surprises are good ones.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Ugh! So often the men are the ones with pie in the sky, sure we’ll do that no matter WHAT. The “what” generally being that things end up costing the company millions and they don’t actually solve anything.

  13. Mike C.*

    Given that I’m a professional Eeyore (Quality Assurance), asking questions and suggesting modifications particularly important in making sure you can be productive in the long term. Sure, you can pull out the regulations/standards/contracts/laws and say NO until you’re blue in the face and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be helping other groups be productive and compliant either.

    1. LQ*

      It might be a different kind of QA (I don’t do big development applications – mostly small things I can do own my own) but I totally see QA work as sort of the opposite of Eeyore.

      “You only have to fix this 2/200 things and then it can go forward!”

      (I could be biased because I finally got permission to use someone to at least do some basic QA work on my stuff and it is SO much better when it is released now.

      1. Mike C.*

        Oh, I always forget this so let me clarify. I don’t work in software, I work in aerospace.

        In highly regulated industries like aerospace, pharmaceuticals, etc, you often have a Quality (or sometimes QC/QA) organization that runs parallel to the Manufacturing/Production group. M/P makes the stuff and we test final products for defects and design/enforce procedures to ensure that defects don’t occur based on our safety/legal/contractual requirements.

    2. MaryMary*

      When I used to do QA, I would joke that my favorite thing about my job was that I got to identify problems without being responsible for coming up with solutions. “All I know is that 2+2 should equal 4, and what you sent me has 2+2 = 7. I don’t know how it happened, but I need you to make 2+2=4.”

      (It was my joke, I wasn’t really that much of an ass to my programmers)

  14. Beezus*

    Sometimes, I pick my battles when the stakes are fairly high (not “people dying or the company going bankrupt” high, but maybe “large sums of money or drawing energy away from more worthwhile things” high.) If I’ve told you that ABC must be done for XYZ to work, I’ve drawn you diagrams, painted you pictures, escalated to your manager and your director, and ABC still isn’t happening correctly or consistently, maybe it’s time we all learned a painful lesson about the importance of ABC.

    When I did this, ABC and XYZ weren’t my responsibility anymore, and continuing to harp on about it was costing me career capital and only resulting in enough ABC coverage to allow XYZ to limp along. I stopped harping and focused on my new job, ABC stopped being done, XYZ blew up spectacularly, tons of resources were spent on it for a few weeks, we spent six figures fixing it, and you know what? ABC is done promptly and consistently now, and everyone knows what it is and why it’s important. The manager who refused to make it a priority and actively targeted me for drawing attention to it isn’t here anymore, either.

      1. Master Bean Counter*

        Yes, but sometimes the only way to make people see the importance of something is to let it fail.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have done it, not as large scale, just to the tune of 4 digits worth of repairs. One time I had correctly identified the source of the problem, “we need to remove x and the problem will stop”.

          I got called every name in the book and back-stabbed all over the workplace. (Normal stuff for the place I worked.) Well, this particular time, I was tired, really tired. I felt that I had explained the solution to the best of my ability and demonstrated that my idea would work. So when the remarks started happening, I just let it go. The tech came and said “remove x” and gave them a bill for several thousand dollars. The same advice I gave at no additional cost. Oh well.
          I was sure I was going to hear how we were not profitable and I was ready to raise this point. You know how this goes, when you have a response ready you do not need it. I never needed it.

          I will say, you can get use to seeing one train derailment every day. But it’s depressing over the long term to watch it.

    1. Megs*

      My mother-in-law is an office manager at a small family business and we’ve been trying to convince her to start letting balls drop so that some of the dysfunction is actually addressed. She’s been running herself ragged trying to keep everything together even though much of it isn’t her job, she’s not getting the support she needs for her actual job, and nothing has changed when she’s tried to get it through to her bosses that the situation is unsustainable. Letting things blow up is a hard sell, especially when you’re a perfectionist, but I think there really are situations where it’s the only option other than walking away. Risky, sure, but so’s being stressed, overworked, and miserable all the damn time.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        “Letting things blow up is a hard sell, especially when you’re a perfectionist…”

        Or when you’re going to take the blame.

        1. Megs*

          Oh for sure, and that’s absolutely something we are worried about. It’s become such a toxic situation, though, that I don’t know that there’s anything she can do other than refuse to continue to carry the entire office on her shoulders anymore. I’m not advocating she purposefully sabotage things, more that she clearly tell her boss the number of hours she’s able to work in a week (naturally she’s not subject to overtime laws because of the size of the company) and the tasks that need to move to another employee (they hired another assistant recently who hasn’t been picking up much if any of the slack) and then stick to her guns if things start falling apart. She’s one of those people who seriously discounts her own value while simultaneously taking responsibility for keeping everything running smoothly at the risk to her own sanity and health.

          1. Observer*

            She is almost certainly covered – according to the DOL any business that has 2 employees and turns over $500K, or in which business activities (including letters and phone calls) cross state lines is covered.

            Links in a following post.

            1. Megs*

              Believe me, I’ve checked. A two attorney partnership doing business solely in a single state and bringing in well under $500k doesn’t qualify.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Sometimes with perfectionists, you can phrase it to them as hurting the company and their co-workers. How are they going to learn and become part of a functional team if she’s carrying them?

      2. Not So NewReader*

        That is a tough one because a lot of times that attitude is a personal way of life also.

        If it’s a choice between my health blowing up and the problem blowing up I have to draw a line. Some people will go farther than me and others will not go as far as I do. I kind of envy the latter group.
        But it’s about knowing your physical/psychological limits and it’s also about setting boundaries.

        1. Megs*

          I think this whole discussion about things blowing up is really about setting boundaries and communicating them. In a dysfunctional situation, one person can’t keep things single-handedly afloat forever without suffering for it. Drawing those boundaries can be scary, and maybe they lead to professional consequences, but not drawing those boundaries can have the same negative effect and can be disastrous to one’s well-being.

    2. Beezus*

      I ran out of other options. I took it up the chain as high as I dared, and my new boss was understanding but was starting to get impatient at how much focus I was devoting to my old group’s processes. My old team’s new manager was hostile, especially once I escalated it over her head (there were much deeper issues there.) I’d made the risks clear, I’d documented that I handed the process off and had gone above and beyond to help them be successful with it for months. I needed to let them go and focus on my new job.

  15. The Expendable Redshirt*

    Funders recently tried to shorten my program length. Essentially, do more work in less time for the same pay. This is my verbal response….

    “Due to the population we are serving (very complicated) the existing timeframe is realistic.”

    My thoughts …..
    “You are loons with no concept of how difficult it is to work with this population. Your expectations are completely unrealistic.”

    1. The Expendable Redshirt*

      There’s the strategy of “If you want me to do X, I’ll have to drop Y, Z, or J. What should I focus on?”

  16. Jillociraptor*

    One additional thing I would add, which is kind of a shade of “say something positive” and “ask questions” is to affirm the why behind the suggestion. The suggestion itself might be preposterous and literally impossible, but the person is probably trying to communicate something by making it. If you can find out what that is, it’s much easier to have a collaborative, re-aligning conversation rather than an Eeyore conversation.

    To give an example from many years ago, my student job in college was in the Student Activities office, AKA planning awesome parties and activities for the campus. It was a super fun job. One classmate once came to us with the idea of doing jello wrestling on the quad, which…just try to think through the logistics and liabilities of that! We tried to show curiosity for exactly what they valued: was it being outside, or just doing something really quirky, etc. And then we could make suggestions that were more logistically viable. I think in that case we ended up doing a movie in the lake, with inner tubes (quirky + outside), which satisfied the student and also helped us meet our business needs.

    Being able to understand the principles and values behind the suggestion (even if, or maybe especially if, it comes from a place of fear or vulnerability) can help these conversations avoid just becoming intractable conflicts.

      1. Jillociraptor*

        Serious question: where did you make all the jello? That was our main hold up! We couldn’t figure out anywhere big enough to make it all!

        1. alter_ego*

          at our school, I believe it was made right in the…ring, for lack of a better word. they constructed some shallow walled in square to use as a wresting wring, and just dumped water and boxes and boxes and boxes of what I’m pretty sure in our case was actually pudding in.

        2. Owl*

          I think, like alter_ego, they did it in the ring. I also got the impression (though this was DECADES ago, now) that an outside company rented the ring, ropes etc, and presumably made the “jello.” Which was not actually all that jello-like, it was really watery.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    I think surrounding context helps. If you volunteer to help in a pinch and you fix urgent problems this can help you to gain credits to go up against the minuses for being an Eyeore.

    Or if you have reputation for listening to people’s toughest problems at work and resolving those tough problems that can go in your favor also. Note you don’t really have to come up with the answer, you look at it with them and through back and forth conversation an answer appears. That willingness to look at something counts a lot.

    One of the ways I have made myself keep my mouth shut is when I do not have a better idea or I cannot clearly identify what is wrong. That has helped me to say nothing and let the process unfold.

    1. LQ*

      I think this has been a huge benefit to me, I’m known for turning project around in a really quick time frame and being excited for complicated projects. So when I say no people don’t think that I’m trying to crush something or I’m being negative.

  18. ArtsAdmin4Life*

    My boss came up with a preferred way to shoot down crazy/bad ideas that our Department Head comes up with a least a few times a month, which basically boils down to “No (because reason) but how about this (alternative idea)?” It works really well to both deflect crazy/bad ideas, and create momentum on whatever project we’re working on.

  19. anonintheuk*

    My issue is trying not to sound as if I think the suggester has lost his or her marbles.
    I had to explain that my compliance staff are very quiet work-wise for six weeks a year because the deadline for filing one year’s returns has passed, and the next tax year has not yet ended. Apparently, despite the fact that this person has always worked in tax and accounting, this was a surpise

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