A big part of managing expectations in the workplace involves understanding deadlines and making them work for you. There’s nothing that makes you look more unprofessional than missing an important (or even unimportant!) deadline—and few things break trust as quickly.
In order to manage such time targets effectively, you might have to proactively renegotiate them at times. Unfortunately, many professionals don’t know how to properly do this so they end up creating new problems for themselves when they try. To help ensure this doesn’t happen to you, follow these simple steps.
1. Don’t agree in the first place.
If you know a deadline is unreasonable from the very beginning, don’t accept it. It’s your job to educate your colleagues regarding expectations. If they think a task takes much less time than it actually does, inform them of the reality. This will help them better gauge timelines in the future.
To be clear: This doesn’t mean you should decline or renegotiate deadlines that stretch you. It’s fine to accept something that pushes you past your comfort zone. In fact, that’s a requirement in today’s workplace. What we’re talking about here are deadlines that simply don’t make sense given the circumstances (other priorities, time constraints, etc.).
Then, skip to step number 3.
2. The sooner the better.
If you’re working with an established deadline you’ve already agreed to, don’t wait until the last minute to tell the necessary parties that it’s next to impossible to meet. As soon as you realize there’s a chance it can’t be done, speak up. Lack of communication is probably the biggest problem most people have with deadline management.
3. Offer a reasonable alternative.
Instead of simply saying you can’t meet a deadline, provide a reasonable alternative that can be met. Don’t forget to give yourself some wiggle room in there. You can’t always predict your workload and Murphy’s Law ensures anything that can go wrong will. A good rule of thumb is to “under promise and over deliver.” That basically just means your suggested alternative deadline shouldn’t be too aggressive. You want to give yourself every opportunity to not only meet but exceed expectations.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that your alternative deadline will simply be accepted. Be prepared for this to kick off a negotiation process. Both parties may need to compromise a bit to find a solution that works for everyone.
Keep in mind that you might have to reprioritize some other items to make room for this one within the required time frame. Obviously, it has to make sense to do so. Should it happen, let the other party know that you’re going out of your way to meet their needs. This helps to create a feeling of camaraderie. If they know you’re willing to shift things around for them, they’re more likely to flex a bit on their end as well and they’ll be especially appreciative of whatever you can offer.
Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get talked into another unreasonable deadline.
5. Don’t renegotiate twice.
Rarely is it acceptable to renegotiate the same deadline twice. Heed the advice in steps 3 and 4 to ensure you don’t get stuck again. If it happens, the same rules apply as above. But this time, you absolutely must ensure you can and will meet the new deadline—no exceptions. Repeated renegotiation of a deadline indicates the task or project isn’t a priority and perhaps it should be reconsidered.
6. Don’t make excuses.
The key to success in all of this is honest, straightforward and timely communication. There’s no need to offer complicated excuses, place blame, or provide a litany of reasons for your renegotiation request. Keep the conversation simple and clearly define what you want/need to successfully resolve the situation. A concise explanation is often appreciated, but don’t go overboard. Most people just want to know the bottom line. The question of “why” is less important than figuring out next steps.
Photo Credit: Moonrhino (Flickr)