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I sometimes make requests to my manager for certain resources like data to analyze certain trends.

Most of the times, he says yes and gives me what I need but after two or three reminders.

However, sometimes even after saying "yes", he doesn't give me what I want even after more than ten reminders and detailed explanations about the importance of what I need.

I can imagine that there are privacy or security concerns to him not giving the data. Perhaps he doesn't want to spend time on a discussion which would ensue if he says "no", but in my opinion I have never argued back to a firm "no", and whenever he gives a non-firm "no" I spend at most ten minutes trying to persuade him before accepting his viewpoint.

However, I find the process of reminding him repeatedly very time consuming.

How can I tell him to say "no" if he means "no"?

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    Are you making these requests verbally, in a meeting, or by email? Is it clear that you expect him personally to give you the data, or does he believe that's someone else's responsibility, or even yours? What specifically is involved in "giving you the data": emailing a coworker to ask them to do it? granting access in AWS? exporting a CSV file? running a SQL query? Have you asked him why specifically he didn't give you it on previous occasions? How do other people in your group manage? – smci Aug 6 '18 at 22:41
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    It's definitely not clear that he means no. From your question that sounds more like your passive-aggressive way of explaining that it means "no" in practice. Has he actually indicated at some point that you will never get the data? – pipe Aug 6 '18 at 23:09
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    Why is your final question How can I tell him to say "no" if he means "no"? instead of How can I ensure he follows up on his "Yes"? I sense an underlying assumption (yours) that you are not telling us. – Jan Doggen Aug 7 '18 at 9:01
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    Write us out the 10 min of literal dialog so we can see what you're doing wrong. Sounds like you're not being clear or specific - it should be two sentences long ("Can you send me XYZ dataset by end of today? Or else how do I get it?") – smci Aug 7 '18 at 21:39
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    @wwl "in my opinion I have never argued back to a firm "no", whenever he says "no" I spend at most ten minutes trying to persuade him before accepting his viewpoint." That confuses me. Spending 10 whole minutes (quite a bit of time) trying to persuade someone is the same as arguing. Anything other than "OK" (or similar) in response to no is arguing. Or am I missing something? – user87779 Aug 7 '18 at 22:18
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How can I tell him to say "no" if he means "no"?

You probably can't. However you can stop asking questions that have Yes and No answers.

Instead of just saying "Can I have resources for project Zerble?", say "I need resources for project Zerble. Assuming you'd still like me to go ahead on that project, when should I expect to receive them?"

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    Asking non-binary questions is a great suggestion, as that would "force" the manager to give a real answer :) additionally, this could be done via email or similar so OP has a paper trail and so the manager can't elude the answer in other ways if asked with spoken words – DarkCygnus Aug 6 '18 at 18:43
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    And if he doesn't deliver "tomorrow" repeatedly, go one step up and show them the proof of negligence. – rubenvb Aug 7 '18 at 12:42
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    This just changes the answer to : Soon (TM). – Jose Antonio Dura Olmos Aug 7 '18 at 21:43
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    @JoeStrazzere Can you though? :D – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 8 '18 at 10:44
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    @JoeStrazzere Unfortunately, "tomorrow" is often an euphemism for "never". If the manager answers "yes" but means "no", chances are his "tomorrow" means "never". – Nemanja Trifunovic Aug 8 '18 at 12:14
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A project management tool such as Jira would help - ticket all requests, and then you can track all slow moving work. Schedule a meeting two or three times a week for 15 minutes to review the work queue, and you can discuss blockers. Even if you're the only person using this system, it's still an excellent audit and accountability tool.

In terms of privacy etc; you should be able to determine if the reports you produce have any privacy implications, and tell him of your concerns instead of waiting for him to tell you. For reports, you should always use anonymized data where possible.

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    So the conversation with the boss goes "Can I install Jira to track project issues?" "Yes!" … imagine the rest for yourself ;) – alephzero Aug 6 '18 at 19:32
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    @alephzero "Can I receive all my work assignments on Jira?" ;) – user90965 Aug 6 '18 at 21:16
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How can I tell him that I prefer his answer to be "no" if he means "no"?

I don't think you can do this without being condescending. What I would suggest is verify the task at hand or the resource required via email and then at the very end ask them if you are reading the terrain correctly.

Something like:

"I think I need this or that to do task A. Does this seem correct to you or is there a better way to get this or that?"

Beyond that and occasional reminders when necessary, not sure there is much else you can do.

  • Correct. And I've left jobs in the past because management's inability or unwillingness to actually do their jobs in this regard left me unable to work effectively. It had become worse over a period of years to the extent that project requirements, review meetings, even simple forwarding of information emails never happened despite repeated promises. Not wanting to roll out the old Workspace.SE trope, but sometimes leaving an environment like that is all you can do. I sometimes wonder what happened to that firm; if it folded, they totally did it to themselves by simply not working! – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 8 '18 at 10:45
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Why are you assuming a delay in a response to a “Yes” means “No?”

Most of the times, he says yes and gives me what I need but after two or three reminders.

A lot of this question assumes intention in your manager’s actions. But did you ever consider your manager is just forgetful? It seems to me you are asking a “Yes or No” question and are assuming that your manager is passive-aggresively implying “No” when you don’t get what you request in a timeframe you are assuming.

I believe the larger issue here might just be your manager. Your manager might simply be absent minded but this might also just be the way they deal with anyone/anyone anywhere/everywhere and there’s not much you can do about it.

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    Not trying to be funny but dementia may genuinely be a cause. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 8 '18 at 10:47
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Perhaps. And I don’t see it as an insult. But you can also be young and be absent-minded without a medial reason. – JakeGould Aug 8 '18 at 14:42
  • It's possible. Though forgetting ten times definitely says to me "early-onset dementia". I mean it's either that, or really extreme laziness, or some other severe personal problem. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 8 '18 at 15:07
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Well, the thing is have you ever dealt with some people in the world of sales? Yes this question is not about sales, but a lot of sales people are skilled at what they do because they just naturally can delay things. – JakeGould Aug 8 '18 at 15:34
  • To the people you're trying to get to do work for you though? – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 8 '18 at 16:18
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Sounds like you are trying to tell the manager what to do, even though he might not consider it critical enough to be worth doing.

I suspect that the manager does give you the data when it is mission critical. When it is not, he focuses on other things. This does not necessarily mean he is ignoring your request -- instead, "yes" may mean "I heard you and I will consider it."

If he gives it to you eventually then great. If not then you should probably assume that it is not critical enough and refocus on things that are, unless informed otherwise.

One thing I would advise not to do is trying to force the manager to change his communication style only because you find it frustrating. It should be a lot easier (and less risky) for you to change how you interpret what the manager tells you, and adjust your own expectations instead.

Do continue to document your requests. That way when you give the manager an analysis memo that has gaping holes because you could not include the data you asked for but he never gave you, if he asks about it, you can point to 2 emails you have sent: 1 request and 1 reminder, which should be sufficient evidence of reasonable effort on your part.

If you get to the point where you absolutely must know the reason why data xyz was not provided in spite of your repeated requests, there is nothing wrong with setting up a quick meeting with the manager and asking him straight up, "I was wondering if you could offer any insight why we haven't been able to obtain data xyz for this analysis. I imagine there are some constraints I may not be aware of but it would be helpful for me to know how much effort is involved in obtaining this kind of data, so that I might consider workarounds." Good luck!

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    Isn't it a manager's primay job to decide on, prioritize and communicate assignments? If the answer to every resource request is, effectively, "wait X days and you'll see", the employee will have to constantly schedule their time around tasks that may or may not exist. Risks include doing unnecessary work, working at reduced capactiy until one of the phantom projects materializes later than expected, or having to do overtime because three of them materialize at once (e.g. if they depend on the same data). – Ruther Rendommeleigh Aug 7 '18 at 13:58
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    Yes, this answer is exactly what I thought of when I read the question. the YES is actually just the equivalent of a network ACK. He is just reporting he heard your request. – Mindwin Aug 7 '18 at 18:04
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In extreme situations, consider avoiding even asking a question. Instead, send a memo/email like the following:

"Please provide the documents by x date if you would like me to proceed with the project."

This technique works well with people who fail to respond to communication or won't reliably give an answer about when they will act. It also puts the burden on them to change your default action(s).

In other words, let them know (without asking a question!) that if they don't act within the deadline, you will proceed with whatever default action or inaction makes the most sense to you.

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How can I tell him to say "no" if he means "no"?

It is in very poor form to tell, or even suggest, to your manager how he should conduct himself at work. In general, trying to change other people is futile. The proper course of action is to accomplish whatever work you can, ask for more work when you run out or can't proceed, and be prepared with facts if your manager asks about tasks you are waiting for data on. If he asks "What about project XYZ?" you can simply say "I need resource ABC to work on XYZ. Do you have some time to give me ABC or should I work on a different project for now?". This is a factual, non-confrontational response that has worked well for me in the past.

Another course of action could be to request for direct access to the resources in question so that your manager does not need to be the middle man.

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