How to Respond to a Crazy Idea From Your Boss
Your boss asks for your thoughts an idea that’s outside the box—actually, a more accurate description would be out of this universe. If you were asked over email, you’d spend a few moments picking your jaw up off the floor, and then probably a good half an hour (or more) working through a response.
But you don’t have the luxury of response time: Your boss is on the other side of the phone—or your office—eagerly awaiting your thoughts.
You may be thinking, “There is just no way,” but of course, there is a more diplomatic (and effective) way to go about it. Read on for two approaches I’ve used and would recommend in this situation.
1. Get on the Same Level
No one likes to hear that they proposed a terrible business idea (and no one—especially not a subordinate—wants to be the messenger). So, put the “cushion before the ax” by trying to find a universe in which the idea could work.
For example, I once had a boss suggest that we ask an organization we were renting a space from to host the event—in its inaugural year. Before I launched into why you can’t go from paying someone to asking them to plan your event, I first acknowledged the universe in which he had a point—in this case that it would be mutually beneficial for both organizations to be involved.
So, I framed my response like this: “Surely, that’s something that might be of interest to them in three to five years. However—first things first—we have to throw a successful event to show them that we can draw their crossover audience.”
I’ll admit it: I then added, “Plus, it looks unprofessional to tell someone you’ll rent their space then ask them to throw your party,” but by first showing that I could get on the same page, I had more credibility in suggesting we take an alternative approach.
2. Ask for More Information
OK, so what if your boss comes to you with an idea that you literally can’t wrap your head around? Try asking for more information. It isn’t just a stalling technique, it also gives you more insight.
For example, say your boss suggests you take on a new program initiative that seems wholly unrelated to everything else you’re doing. It would seem a little less crazy if you learn that the organization as a whole is shifting directions or that this is a top priority for a key stakeholder, right? But you won’t know that until you ask.
A former supervisor had the best advice for a situation like this: She advised starting with the words, “I’m confused.” By framing your inquiry along the lines of, “Hmmm—could you tell me more about…” you seem curious (as opposed to defensive) while still satisfying your desire to figure out what the heck is going on.
Everyone has a crazy idea from time to time. And while your immediate reaction may be to laugh, scream, or just simply put out there how insane it is, diplomacy is generally the better bet. In the end, both you and supervisor will be thankful.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author