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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Your Boss Keeps Asking You to Redo Your Work—Is She the Worst, or Is it Something You're Doing?

After weeks of pouring all of your time and energy into a new project, you turn it in and are feeling pretty victorious. Moments later, your supervisor walks over to your desk. It feels a little soon for praise, but OK, why not?

She sits down and tells you that you’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

Wait, what?

Then she starts describing the revisions she’s looking for, and they’re nothing like the project you were assigned. Is your manager an indecisive flip-flopper, or was she saying this all along and you completely missed her point?

Here are two key questions you can ask to figure out what happened and prevent this from happening again (and again).

“Are We Shifting Our Primary Goals?”

Your first order of business is to learn if there are new considerations. Even though it’s a little annoying to start over, if recent budget cuts or new information from the client has come to light, this question ensures you’ll have the information you need to revise your work. It also reassures you that you heard your boss correctly the first time (important for overall communication and your self-esteem)—and reminds him that you were doing your best to deliver what he originally asked for. As a bonus, it’s a gentle nudge in his direction to keep you in the loop as much as possible.

Conversely, if you’re told the audience, focus, and metrics are the same as they’ve always been, you’ll know that you and your manager have been on two different pages. Clearing this up is the first order or business—otherwise you’ll keep making the same types of mistakes.

This time around, instead of using his recommendations as a jumping off point, plan to stick to exactly what he asks. Take notes—verbatim—and wherever there’s room for interpretation, ask for clarification. Clearly, your boss has specific expectations, and it will make both of your jobs easier if you’re clear on what they are.

“What Can I Do to Make the Next Version Successful?”

OK, your tone really matters on this one. If there’s even a hint of “I can’t believe I have to rework this” in your voice, it could come off as passive-aggressive.

And that’s not your goal: Your goal is to zero in on the exact flaws and areas for improvement. There’s no need to redo the parts of the project that are working—and at the same times it’s essential that you do revise the elements where your supervisor expects changes.

This question moves the conversation to what your boss sees as a miss. Sometimes, it gives you an opening to discuss why you got (overly) creative, and either way it ensures you and your manager will be on the same page moving forward.

You’re always trying to shave minutes off your daily to-do list. Being asked to completely revise your work is basically the enemy because it forces you to spend time redoubling your efforts. Use the questions above to figure out where you went astray, get back on the same page as your boss, and avoid going through this process again.

Photo of confusing messages courtesy of Shutterstock.