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I am the only person that works with my boss and he knows some things about the stuff I work on, but he is not an expert. Sometimes he tells me to do something that he thinks would be easy, but it is actually not trivial and when I don't get it done I sometimes get blamed for it. How can I deal with this and let him know this something is not trivial to do, like he thinks it is?

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    When you've realised something isn't trivial, what actions have you taken? Nov 21 at 20:20
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    I also suspect this question of yours is going to be highly relevant here: How to adjust to work when you have narcissism Nov 21 at 20:48
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    ... And keep your boss updated if the estimate changes in a major way. Nov 22 at 2:18
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    @PhilipKendall What of this question made you think of the narcissism question?
    – Andrei
    Nov 23 at 16:54
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    @Andrei as she self-described to maybe have a skewed view on things.
    – Kami Kaze
    Nov 25 at 9:00
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How to deal with this and let him know this something is not trivial to do like he thinks it is.

You just do it. When your boss says "I need X done by Thursday" and you think you won't be able to do it, you don't nod and trod off, you say "Sorry boss, this is complicated, I will most likely not get it done by that time. If you give me a few minutes to look things up, I can give you a better estimate."

Then come up with an estimate of your own. Present it to your boss. Maybe you even misunderstood them and they don't want all that complicated stuff. Or maybe they do. You told them how long you will need. If they insist on doing it in less time, give them options of what to leave out to be done on time. Alternatively, ask for assistance or training to be better. If they ignore all of that, that's on them. If they blame you anyway, it's time to get a better boss.

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    ...and keep them updated if progress starts to significantly differ from the plan Nov 22 at 9:40
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    I can't stress how much this answer should be the right one. I'm a novice software engineering manager myself and personally I can't value enough when my team is direct and transparent with me about when my expectations aren't in line w/ reality. I know not all managers hold the same values, but I'm behind this one 100%.
    – padleyj
    Nov 22 at 14:37
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    This, and all other advice, depends on how reasonable the boss is. If the boss is determined to blame the OP, then that's what's going to happen regardless of how often the OP tells the manager how difficult or long the project truly is. Nov 22 at 18:29
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    To add, I can’t tell you how many times (in a past life working as a dev at a creative agency) a project manager or client would ask for x, which I’d estimate to take 20 hours, was 100% happy to compromise with an almost functionally equivalent y that’d only take 20 minutes. You’re the expert. Start by understanding your bosses needs (repeating back what they’re asking as a question, “Just to make sure I’m understanding what you’re looking for, …” often helps) and, if you see an alternative that’s similar and much easier to implement, propose that and highlight the benefit in timeliness.
    – Greenstick
    Nov 22 at 18:38
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    The big take away: if a task is going to take a while, set that expectation (the bad news) but, if you can, also present an easier alternative if it exists (the good news). Nine times out of ten the boss will go with the alternative your propose. You have the added benefit of having saved them time while also making them feel like you’re a valuable contributor. Flip the script.
    – Greenstick
    Nov 22 at 18:44
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Caveat:

This is an American-centric perspective: I'm not really familiar with professional culture outside of the US. Extrapolate with care.

Answer:

Personal relationships are all about managing expectations. Work relationships are (albeit a special type of) personal relationships.

Most likely your boss (very reasonably) has some expectations of you including:

  1. You accomplish tasks
  2. You manage the lifecycle of #1

Managing task lifetimes? Wait, isn't that my boss' job?

No. That is most definitely not your boss' job. When bosses attempt to perform that role it's called micromanagement and it is justly reviled.

Your question is lacking detail that would lead to a more definitive conclusion, but I'd still wager that you think your boss is upset you're failing at #1 when the actual problem is that you're failing at #2, because I see this crop up all the time in dysfunctional manager/subordinate relationships.

So what does "managing the task lifecycle" look like? It looks like proactively dealing with problems and setbacks. If you go to your boss a month before a deadline and say the deadline is in jeopardy, you're going to get a very different reaction than if you just blow through the deadline. If you are asked to do something and it's way more complicated than the asker realized, you are expected to explain why. If the business need is such that you have to do it anyway, you are expected to help brainstorm potential workarounds or a reduction in scope for the task that meets the deadline and still solves the business problem.

So, those are expectations your boss almost certainly has of you. Whether or not you are meeting them you will have to negotiate with that person. But what about the flip-side? What expectations do you have of your boss? If your expectation of your boss is that they not have the above expectations of you, you are going to have a very unpleasant career.

Is your expectation that your boss have a better understanding of tasks outside of their area of expertise? You're the SME (Subject Matter Expert) here. A manager will rarely have the luxury of understanding in detail all of the components of a complex task, and they will (again, reasonably) expect you to break it down with an eye towards solutions rather than just stating that something is "hard" or "won't work".

Most people in my experience do not explicitly sit down and write out what expectations they have of their boss and what they imagine the expectations are that their boss has of them, but it can be instructive to do so. Most bosses do not sit down and write all this out either, they expect people (often unfairly IMO) to "just know" how to be "professional"--doubly so because those bosses are largely drawn from the ranks of people who intuitively understand all of this without needing someone to spell it out and/or people who were mentored in the professional mien without being explicitly told that they were being taught good professional habits (i.e. one or more of their early jobs were at places where people modeled these habits well and they picked it up via osmosis).

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    THIS is excellent advice. When I switched from employee to independent contractor/consultant I felt much more urged to own & manage #1 and #2, because bosses become customers. Corporations like to treat you like "family", but the mistake is to think that a boss will watch over you like a parent.
    – P2000
    Nov 23 at 17:33
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It's easy: "talk to your boss!"

When your description of the interaction is reduced to, "he tells you something .. [I think that] he thinks it would be easy .. I get blamed for it," then the two of you (probably: you) are not talking.

Tomorrow morning, ask your boss to meet you at the nearest local coffee shop. Buy him/her a coffee. Express your concerns. Then: [shaddup and] listen. Neither of you are adversaries.

(Full disclosure: spoken from the boss's side ...)

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    I'd agree with just about all of this apart from "buy him/her a coffee" - this runs the risk of setting an expectation that "bad news" meetings need to come with a sweetener, they should just be part of regular conversation. Nov 22 at 10:38
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    The "coffee shop" advice seems to make some oddly specific Covid-related assumptions: that OP and boss are working remotely (so they don't see each other in the office), but yet that they live close together, and have no obstacles (such as caregiving responsibilities) to meeting up in person on short notice.
    – nanoman
    Nov 22 at 18:49
  • Just walk into your bosses office or cubicle, wait for them to acknowledge you and talk. Schedule a time if they are busy. The coffee thing is weird, sounds like you want to skip work for a bit or brown nose. Nov 25 at 2:46
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Sometimes he tells me to do something that he thinks would be easy, but it is actually not trivial

Do you tell him that the task is not that trivial? Do you try to explain why is more complex than he thinks? Do you give him a reasonable estimation of how long it will take?

and when I don't get it done I sometimes get blamed for it

If your boss and you agree that X amount of work has to be done by X date and by that date, the work is not done and your boss does not know why, you are the one to blame.

Is just about managing expectations. Negotiate with him a reasonable deadline, and in the very first moment you think that there is a chance of not meeting that deadline, go and talk to him. This way, he will be able to manage his bosses/clients expectations to... and he cannot blame you of anything, as you are fulfilling your agreements with him.

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Just tell him! If you can't get things done in time, it's your fault. Why? Because your inability to adjust others expectations is automatically accepting fate. If your boss asks you to climb Mt. Everest and you don't say anything but simply complain on the internet, then you are at fault and only you, regardless of the tasks.

I see these questions pop up everywhere. Have people forgotten that they are not only able but expected to COMMUNICATE with upper people? If you fear that saying anything that upper people don't agree with will cost you your job, then you shouldn't be working in such a yes-man position anyway (for your own good).

3 Options:

  • Tell him right away and explain why xyz will take longer or needs further research etc.
  • You say nothing, your boss (who may or may not be a good person we don't know), thinks that you'll solve the task with no issues since there wasn't a single ounce of complaining or even discussion (<- Which means more and more difficult tasks since he has a new perspective of your skill even though you tirelessly barely completed said task).
  • Find a job that suits your skills and mindset (Worst case scenario, we are internet-strangers, we don't know you. Maybe you aren't qualified for the position, we don't know).

Any of these options will yield a better result than passively complaining.

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    "I can't believe that this is actually a question" sounds a bit dismissive and contemptuous. Consider removing that sentence. If you thought it worth investing your time to answer the question, then at some level you think the question has merit/value.
    – CodeSeeker
    Nov 22 at 18:30
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    As I've stated on another answer, this depends on how reasonable the boss is. If the boss is convinced they are correct or want to throw blame, they will regardless of what or how often the OP explains anything. Nov 22 at 18:31
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    No, no, and no. People making unreasonable demands do not escape responsibility for making unreasonable demands. In fact, they are to blame -- not the person who could not do the impossible. It is not humanly possible to adjust anyone's expectations. Only the owner of said expectations could ever adjust them. Nov 22 at 21:29
  • I upvoted this answer because I think it adds value and has some great advice, but I also upvoted @CodeSeeker's comment because I think it is totally correct too, and not being contemptuous and dismissive is important. It's a good reminder for myself on Stack Overflow where I myself need to remember those things: if it has enough value for me to comment on it and begin an answer, I should at least be nice while I do it. Nov 23 at 2:03
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    @GabrielStaples The lesson for me has been: contempt for others can't be separated from contempt for myself. The more I learn to be gracious to others for their weaknesses and flaws, the more I learn to do the same for my own–without being content for them to remain. And for me, this contempt for others and for myself has been sabotaging my growth, unbeknownst to me, for a long time. I'm getting sensitized to it now.
    – CodeSeeker
    Nov 23 at 4:08

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