Dealing with a Manager Who Says Everything Is Urgent
My friend Stanley is frustrated with his boss, Frank, who sends him email messages marked “urgent.” These emails direct Stanley to do some research, seek some information, or perform a task. Given the urgency, Stanley drops what he’s working on to do what Frank wants and inform Frank of his results.
Then Stanley awaits the next steps that Frank would issue if the matter were truly urgent. But almost always, after responding to Frank’s email, Stanley hears nothing further. No follow-up. Not even a “Never mind, no longer an issue.” Time after time, the seemingly urgent matter falls into oblivion.
Of course, when everything is urgent, nothing is any more pressing than anything else. That’s not the situation Stanley faces; Frank doesn’t treat everything as urgent. But Stanley often feels like he’s being ASAP’d, that annoying situation in which the boss wants something done as soon as possible—immediately, in other words—whether or not the matter is truly top priority. It’s reasonable to wonder if some of the so-called urgent things Frank asks of Stanley are legitimately urgent.
Despite Stanley’s frustration, this issue may be closer to managing one’s boss than dealing with rush-rush directives that fall into a black hole. By responding immediately to Frank’s urgent emails, Stanley may be reinforcing Frank’s belief that he can continue to issue urgent emails and then go silent when he receives Stanley’s response.
So Stanley might try some strategies for handling the situation. For example, he might explicitly ask for feedback when he responds to Frank, or wait a while after he’s responded and then ask Frank what’s next. Or instead of responding to Frank’s urgent email with an emailed response, he might schedule a meeting with Frank to respond in person. If the matter is truly urgent, you’d think Frank would want to see him as soon as possible.
Alternatively, Stanley might take a little longer than usual to respond to matters Frank declares urgent—or even not respond at all and see what the fallout is, though this could be chancy.
Of course, if Stanley has a good relationship with Frank, he might try a more direct approach. He could have a friendly conversation with Frank and explain that it’s frustrating to respond to an urgent request and then hear nothing further. The potential pitfall? Stanley could become the recipient of a barrelful of follow-up emails ordering him to do yet another thing ... urgently. When trying to manage your manager, be careful what you wish for.