5 Questions To Ask Yourself When Approached About Favors

man on his knees begging

What can be worse for a manager than to have someone come into their office trying to weasel out a favor?  Ok, I’m sure that any type of disciplinary action is worse, and even layoffs, but the idea of someone going out of their way to try and push an agenda of theirs onto you is definitely up in that top pet peeve list.  I have seen managers go from both extremes of pushing an employee out of their office when they realized what they were trying to do, to falling into it hook, line, and sinker, and then many somewhere in between.

There are a few problems with allowing underhanded and deceitful behavior to propagate in the workplace. First, it’s demoralizing to those who are being circumvented.  I’m sure most managers have experienced a situation in which someone else went to his/her boss and managed to convince them that something needed to be done, without even speaking to the manager about it first.  Being blindsided by a request from your boss that something needs to be done is not often a fun or productive situation.

A larger problem than demoralization, is that when someone gets away with pushing their will upon another, they realize that it’s a viable way to get what they want to do accomplished.  After all, when a child harasses their mother for candy and the mother gives in, the child is reinforced in behavior that is not desirable (this goes for throwing a tantrum in the store also).  While these behaviors are unacceptable outside the work environment, they are even worse inside the work environment.

When being approached by an employee, whether under you or not, you should be constantly looking out for many factors:

  1. Who will the task affect? When someone asks for a favor, you need to first look at the actual task they are trying to get done.  Who is involved? Who needs to be notified or asked for input?  Get a good look at the big picture before you say yes to anything.
  2. What kind of workload would you be committing your resources to add to their (likely) already full plate by giving an affirming answer? The answer to this question is not so clear when being asked the question, so be sure to withhold a resolution until you investigate your options.
  3. (This is a big one) What is the motive behind the task being proposed? It’s a big question because the motives of individual can be simply to make a better product, but it could also be intended to override a decision that was already made.  It could even be designed with malicious intents so that they can show weakness in a particular employee.  You’re not going to have an easy time figuring out the motives every time that someone asks, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
  4. What is the added benefit of performing the task?  Is this a value addition to a product, the company, or business unit? If not, it likely shouldn’t be undertaken without significant reasons.  That being said, anything with no value addition should not be done, but there could be unquantifiable gains in productivity for systems or processes within the organization.
  5. Is the task feasible? Can you and your resources actually complete the task, and in a timely fashion?  If not, then the request is moot and needs to be treated as a dream more than a request.  On the other hand, if it is feasible, and not able to be timely, perhaps there is merit to looking into it further.  If it’s going to push out the finish date of the project though, it needs to be weighed carefully to ensure that the customers will still be happy with the extension.

Requests are simply that.  Requests.  Just because someone walks into your office looking for a quick affirmation, doesn’t mean that you need to give it to them!  Also, when your engineers give you reasons why the request is unacceptable, unattainable, or even ludicrous, listen to their reasons and get a second opinion.  Many engineers are stubborn creatures who are inflexible to change.  If one says no and three others say yes, you have grounds to push the nay-sayer into a yes!

Is there other advice YOU would give to managers who are being asked to do something that doesn’t necessarily need to be done?  Please discuss in the comments!