I was having dinner with a bunch of friends and experienced this. Thought I’d share the story as well as one of the insights it gave me.
– Coach Wolfgang

reaction to unexpected

A few years ago, I was at an outdoor restaurant having dinner with friends visiting from out of town. The sun was beginning to set but it was a warm, comfortable evening. A waitress approached our table and said, “Hello.” She introduced another waiter whom she was training. We placed our drink orders and the two went away. A few minutes later the waiter-in-training came out with a tray of ice waters for our table. They were large plastic cups and the tray was full since there was close to 10 of us at the table.

As he put the first few waters down, the tray quickly became unbalanced. In a flash, the tray slipped out of his hands and the rest of the waters landed on the right side of one of my friends. He missed his head but probably dumped over 100 oz. of ice water completely down the right side of his body! I immediately stopped talking – everyone at the table did! It must have been SO cold and so startling. The waiter quickly handed him some napkins, but there was no use in using these napkins to try to dry his shirt or shorts.

At this point, people were looking for his reaction. So how would you have reacted? Called the waiter an idiot? Asked for the manager? Demanded that our meal be comped? Stormed out of the restaurant?!

What then?

Was this the end of his evening? We had a night out planned with friends. The wet clothes must have been uncomfortable and embarrassing.

You are responsible for your reaction

Let’s look at an analogous situation: how do you react when you get an unwanted project or assignment “dumped” on you at work by your boss? It is certainly unexpected and unwanted. It often disrupts or even ruins your day! You are certainly justified at being upset. But before you react, take a moment to consider your options. After all, YOU have the choice on how to react. Here are 3 ways of handling this:

Whine and drag

You are ticked off! You can’t believe you got stuck with this. This really ruined your positive attitude and you spend the next two hours sitting and lamenting this assignment. You realize that there’s no choice here so you abandon your other projects and begin grinding through this task. You take some more time to complain about the project to co-workers and friends. You drag your feet and then have to spend a few hours in the evening finishing this up. You turn in so-so work the next day and your boss asks you for a good number of revisions. The project winds up taking up the bulk of the next day too. Now your boss has a good idea of how fast you turn these types of projects around and what kind of work you do.

Clarify and move

You tell your boss that you are working on another priority item and the new project will put that one in jeopardy. Since your boss has no alternative person you then ask for a delivery time. She mentions it is due the next morning and you let her know that there are a few hours of work needed on this and probably a round of revisions. Looks like the task is top priority so you clearly define it with your boss and set expectations for your first draft. You aren’t pleased with the task but realize this comes with the job and it’s best to minimize this disruption if you can’t get rid of it. You put something together quickly before the end of the day. In the morning you make the changes you received overnight and finish up by noon.  Your boss gets what she needs and is aware of the impact on your other high priority item.  She knows that you can plan a task and get it done but she also knows that your time should be spent on important items.

Bark and push back

Let your boss know that you aren’t pleased with this request and that you don’t feel the task is more important than your current work. Respectfully ask if someone else can help instead.  When your boss says, “I’m sorry, you are the only one.”  So you question the importance of this task and explain how you will have time once you complete your more important task. Your boss then has to decide between the “bark back and force” you to take on the task or the “say pretty please” and beg you to do it.  Either one, makes your boss think long and hard about coming to you with important projects.  That might be good in the short-term but probably not in the long-term.

Do you think there’s a correct response to your boss? Does it seem obvious that “clarify and move” resulted in the best case scenario for all parties? Now you have had a minute to digest these scenarios, how do you think you would react to the waiter who dumped the waters on you? Here’s how my friend reacted: He said nothing to the head waiter or management. He didn’t yell or complain, storm out or make any demands. We finished our meals, paid for them and left – some of us more wet than others. No one on the staff said anything to him – I believe the waiter-in-training was the only staff member who saw the incident. I’m POSITIVE that the waiter will not make that mistake again!  My friend said later that any other reaction would not have been helpful or productive.  There was nothing to do but realize mistakes happen and hope that the waiter would keep the next table dry.

Only you know what the right reaction is to your boss and her urgent request but those are three ideas for you. They are only 3 of many. Choose the one you want BUT make sure that you realize you can choose! You have the choice on how you react. Don’t give up your power to your reactionary and detrimental emotions. Exercise your power over what you can control and don’t let the things you can’t control expand their influence. Regardless of whether your reaction is justified or not, you can see that “whine” and “bark” will actually have a negative impact on your job, maybe even your career. Conversely, the right response can have a positive impact. It’s your choice.


, Should You Say ‘No’ to Your Boss?

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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