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In a professional environment where your supervisor constantly asks you to carry out tasks you were about to do, what would be the most professional response?

Would it be something like "I'll do it right away" or "I was just about to start"?

  • 8
    You mean specifically "tasks that you were already going to do", such as, you had next on your plate to start updating the XYZ process, and your supervisor comes in and says "Can you update the XYZ process please"? – Joe Jan 4 '17 at 15:48
  • Is the OP in a situation where the only contribution from their "superior" is to constantly tell the OP to do what the OP was already doing/going to do? I can understand why that would grate. I suggest withering sarcasm*. "Thank you for your contribution!" "Way to add value!" "I thought so too, let's chest bump!" "I was just gonna do that, but saying it is important too!". (* I don't really.) – Grimm The Opiner Jan 5 '17 at 16:54
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    I don't see any problem here: you should be happy that you are both on the same wavelength. Obviously "I'll do it right away" is the preferred response. (Try to smile too.) If the question were "How do I respond when my boss tells me to do something stupid?" -- then you would have a problem. – TonyK Jan 5 '17 at 17:29
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    Already on it! – AbraCadaver Jan 5 '17 at 19:52
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    It's hard to understand which of several very different possibilities the question is asking about. Is the supervisor asking you to stop what you are now doing to switch to another task? Or are they asking you to finish what you were doing and do next the thing you were already going to do next? – David Schwartz Jan 6 '17 at 1:43

13 Answers 13

67

Just be polite and respectful. The real question here should be what can you do to prevent the question from being asked in the first place. It seems like your boss has no idea what you're doing.

Here are a few steps to get it started:

  1. When you're given something to do, ask when it needs to be completed. Make your boss aware that you know the due date/time.
  2. Keep your boss informed on what you're doing. This could be a quick stand up meeting, an email, Kanban board or whatever your boss prefers.

The goal here is not to look like you're trying to make your life easier, but make your boss's job easier by not having to go out of his way to ask you questions or worry that things aren't getting done on time.

Don't be surprised if he pushes back because he's just a worrier or he may see this as a "wood shedding" moment to show he's actually doing something important. It doesn't take much talent to ask people if they're finished with something.

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    some bosses are micro mangers... it doesnt matter how well informed they are they will still try to talk you though the entire process. – Matthew Whited Jan 5 '17 at 15:16
31

If you are already working on a task given to you by that supervisor and they ask you do something else I would try something like this "I am currently working on Task X, do you want me to stop to work on Task Y?"

With this approach you are giving your manager the choice to alter your priorities while letting them know you are already working on a task assigned to you.

  • 44
    This doesn't appear to answer the question. The scenario described is different. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 4 '17 at 16:09
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit how does it not? Essentially his manager is a water fall type \ possible micro manager that cannot keep track of what he has already tasked out. This approach has worked 100's of times for me and my manager usually appreciated it. – Mister Positive Jan 4 '17 at 16:15
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    The question says "supervisor constantly asks you to carry out tasks you were about to do" and "I was just about to start". The answer appears to be about the supervisor asking the OP to drop tasks and start new, different ones instead? – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 4 '17 at 16:44
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    I Think @LightnessRacesinOrbit is right: OP is asking what he should say when asked to do something he was in the process of starting. e.g., Could you open the window? when his hand is already on the latch. – user1717828 Jan 4 '17 at 18:04
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    Look at it this way, what is the likelihood that the manager just happens to walk by the employees desk immediately after one task has been completed, but immediately before the next task has been started. It's rarely ever going to happen. Either OP spends most of their time in between tasks (not actually working), or OP is in fact still working on one task when the manager comes by to ask about another. – industry7 Jan 5 '17 at 17:33
26

The answer is usually a simple response, but it's context dependent.


Hand is already on the window latch:

Can you open the window, please?

Sure thing, boss.


About to click send on an email:

Can you send me that email?

::Clicks send:: Done.


Just about to start writing a TPS report:

If you could get started on that TPS report, that would be great.

On it!

  • 1
    Very nice examples. – Trilarion Jan 5 '17 at 16:39
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    "On it." is perfect in this situation if you ask me. – Kevin Jan 5 '17 at 18:12
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    Just remember to use the new cover sheet on that TPS report! Did you get the memo on that? – Robert Columbia Jan 6 '17 at 1:18
14

Just say "okay", or "no problem, was just about to anyway".

Don't overthink it!

13

Already on my list - I will bump it to the top

10

In a professional environment where your supervisor constantly asks you to carry out tasks you were about to do, what would be the most professional response?

Would it be something like "I'll do it right away" or "I was just about to start"?

Saying "I'll do it right away" is far less snarky/whiny. But often it's the way you say it as much as the words you use that matter.

Saying "I was just about to start" can be interpreted as "Stop asking me to do things. I know what's important better than you and if you had given me the chance, I would have done what you wanted." Even if that's what you really mean, you have to say it carefully.

I usually say something like "Sure. I'll get right on it." with as much enthusiasm as I can, if I actually have the ability to switch tasks right away. If not I usually say something like "No problem. I can get to it in X." (where X is a number of hours or days, depending on the circumstances.

  • 6
    +1 Tone of voice & body language is the difference between coming across as cheery/helpful versus sarcastic/surly. – anotherdave Jan 4 '17 at 19:12
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    can be interpreted as "Stop asking me to do things..." Absolutely. Sometimes even when that is not what you meant. The "Sure. I'll get right on it." response strikes the right balance IMO - pleasant and succinct. – Leigh Jan 4 '17 at 23:10
  • @MatthewWhited - that's the only thing stopping you from committing a crime? – WorkerDrone Jan 9 '17 at 17:04
  • Obviously you missed the sarcasm – Matthew Whited Jan 9 '17 at 17:27
8

Between the two choices given, it very much depends on whether you want to display obedience and respect (to the hierarchy, with the former) or proactiveness and assertiveness (with the latter).

Which is more appropriate depends on your relationship with this person and general company culture. I doubt either would be seen as particularly rude in any case.

7

You're over-thinking this. It doesn't matter what form of words you use, as long as you're polite and truthful.

3

I would answer that with "Already in flight!". This answers the question directly and provides enough context to inform your supervisor that it is a task that you have already started.

If this task conflicts with another which is of higher priority then be sure qualify that. At some point you should be able to figure that out on your own after you've spent some time on the job learning your supervisor.

1

This is a very interesting question. You describe a situation with far more potential for improvement to your group dynamic (in my view) than I see recognized by any answerer so far.

Some preliminary observations:

  1. Your supervisor has a sphere of responsibility within the purpose of the company that is wider than yours. (This is by definition and as it should be.)
  2. The accomplishment of the purposes and goals of the company should be (ideally) the combined result of the individual actions of each employee of the company (CEO, supervisors, on down through the most junior employees.)
  3. A good executive should embrace his/her entire zone of responsibility. An area under his/her supervision that is failing to accomplish its subpurpose should be addressed personally and brought (back) up to successful support of other areas of the company.
  4. An executive may have a wide area of responsibility. The executive's immediate juniors ("direct reports" in corporate parlance) have as part of their goal the freeing up the executive's time and attention from the areas of their responsibility, as much as possible. In other words, by initiative and taking full care of their own zone of responsibility, they can keep trouble areas off of the executive's plate—and thus increase the power of the company and its accomplishment of its goals. (And increase their own power, as well, since it depends upon the power of the executive above them.)
  5. It is an undesirable condition to require orders to do your job. You have the capability of judgment and initiative, and if you have a defined area of responsibility (a stated purpose for your job), you should handle that area of responsibility without the need for a lot of special orders and attention. (Of course there are aspects that require coordination with other areas and this may involve the executives above you. But that doesn't change the fact that operating on only orders means that you are never reducing the burden of decision making through your own power of intelligence.)

The above gives what may be a very unusual framework from which to answer this question. Now, to comment on the described situation specifically:

Summary: The executive above you (your supervisor) asks you to do a part of your job which you should do as a matter of course, and which in fact you were already planning to do without needing it mentioned.

Your goal should be (re)assurance.

You should have the ideal scene in mind wherein the executive knows completely that they can trust you to handle your assigned area without needing special attention or orders.

Now, even if such a situation does exist (where they fully trust you), it wouldn't be a bad or unexpected thing if they occasionally ask you, "You're taking care of the XYZ project, right?"

But if they are commonly telling you to do things that you already know about and are handling, then you should recognize (and take responsibility for) the fact that they have too much attention wrapped up in your zone of responsibility.

You can improve your own job security, you can free up the supervisor's attention for handling other duties, you can progress further toward an accomplishment of your company's goals, if you handle your job in such a way that the executives above you are never worried about whether or not you are handling your job.

What to say, specifically? Well, if you keep the ideal scene described above in mind, I don't think you will need a particular response spelled out—but here would be an example:

"Could you please handle the XYZ finances report for the ABC project?"

(Cheerfully) "Of course! I've got the list of ABC project expenses from Jim—just got it this morning—and I'm planning to assemble the report by the end of the day, just after I finish with the QRSTUV report. Since you're asking about it, is there any special routing you need on the XYZ report beyond the usual?"

"No, just want to make sure it gets done. The VP for ABCD is asking about it."

"Okay, understood totally. I'll be sure he gets it by the end of the day."

The point is you want him to be able to take his attention off of your zone of responsibility—likely with relief that someone under him is so reliable.

0

It depends on what the other circumstances are.

If you are assigned to do, say, three different tasks today and chose task B to do first and boss asks you to do task task B, just do it and reply "I'm on it".

If you are assigned to do task A containing several steps, say, A.A, A.B and A.C, you have finished task A.A and you are about to start task A.B and boss bumps in asking for task A.B to be done, just do it and reply "I'm on it".

In first scenario, your boss is labeling task B higher priority and you just hit their choice by accident, or by your expertise.

If the second scenario is happening regularly it si about time to approach them and let them know you are not comfortable with it. Maybe they mock you, maybe they aren't sure you won't skip that task by accident.

0

what would be the most professional response?

The one which completely conceals the fact that you take this behavior, or this pattern of unfortunate timing, personally.

If you're asking this question because you want to react professionally, react with cooperation and an absence of emotional content, other than reasonable enthusiasm.

If you're asking this question because you want it to stop, that's different.

0

I have this with one supervisor, and my reply is usually:

"Great minds think alike! That's just what I'm tackling now."

Works for me...

protected by Chris E Jan 5 '17 at 22:00

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