Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 24, Issue 6;   February 7, 2024: Responses to Outrageous Demands

Responses to Outrageous Demands

by

From time to time, we might encounter a powerful person making outrageous demands, possibly accompanied by threats if we don't comply. At first, the choice seems to be between acceding to their demands or flat out refusing. There are other possibilities.
A stone cairn that looks impossible to build

A stone cairn that looks impossible to build. And it probably is. Most likely, adhesives are involved in holding this structure together.

If you are moderately competent in your field, and someone asks or demands that you accomplish something that seems to you to be impossible, it probably is impossible. What is in doubt is either the motive of the person making the demands, or their competence, or both.

At times, when a powerful person makes a request, sets an objective, or endorses a strategy, we recognize it as a bad idea, fatally flawed, flat out impossible, or even illegal. We consider saying "no" in some form. Saying No is a choice not everyone can make. It takes courage because the risks are real. Some careers have been harmed, and some positions lost. Yet, when the outrageous demands of the powerful are outrageous enough — when the only foreseeable result of acceding to their demands is failure and destruction — saying No can seem like the only option that preserves integrity, principle, and professionalism.

But if the person making the demands is powerful enough, we wonder how we can survive saying No. We worry about family, finances, and career. Saying Yes can seem like the only option that preserves family, finances, and career.

So the outrageous demands of powerful people leave us with a difficult choice. Saying Yes might protect family, finances, and career, but it places integrity, principle, and professionalism at risk. Saying No might protect integrity, principle, and professionalism, but it places family, finances, and career at risk.

Life can be complicated.

As I've noted previously, when you don't like your choices, choose to look for more choices. When faced with outrageous demands, there is one more choice that comes to mind immediately: resignation. It might not work for you in your current situation, but considering it carefully as a tool in your toolbox can prepare you if it's ever necessary. Let me take a closer look at resignation. In what follows, I refer to the person making the Outrageous demands as Oscar.

Recognize that you have power
It's The outrageous demands of powerful people can
compel us to choose between saying Yes to
protect family, finances, and career, or saying No
to protect integrity, principle, and professionalism
possible that Oscar wants you to resign because his power is so limited that your voluntary resignation is the only path that leads to an outcome that meets his needs. He has no ability to remove you from your role in a way that's safe for him. In other words, although Oscar is organizationally powerful, you have power too. Along with trying to decide whether to say Yes or No to his demands, think about what you want in exchange for Oscar getting whatever it is that he wants.
Outrageousness might be the point
If Oscar's demands are outrageous, the outrageousness might arise relative to assumptions you're making. Ask yourself, "In what world would Oscar's demands make some sense?" One candidate world is the one in which you no longer play a role, or, at least, no longer play the role you now have. In other words, the outrageousness is the point — Oscar is trying to find a way to remove you. If this explanation fits the data better than any available alternative, consider the possibility that resignation might be preferable to anything else that would happen if you try to remain in your current role. Seek advice from peers, mentors, a coach, or anyone who might have useful insight. Prepare yourself by finding an attractive position elsewhere. You might need it.
Resignation need not be an all-or-nothing option
When we consider resignation, we usually think of it in black-and-white terms: either I accept the outrageous situation and stay on, or I resign immediately. But often there really are shades of gray. For example, you can try to negotiate terms, as in, you'll stay on, but in exchange, Oscar will relax some portion of his demands. Or you'll stay on for N days, and, in exchange, Oscar will delay for N days announcing the portions of his plans that you find so troubling.
Resignation need not be termination
We usually regard resignation as a way of separating from the enterprise — termination, as it were. But unless your current position is at or near the top of the org chart, moving to another role in the enterprise might provide sufficient separation from Oscar to enable you to continue with your career while Oscar continues on his path to self-destruction.
Dividing the work can be the key
If you have special knowledge of the subject matter, you might know how to accomplish some part of the work that seems especially challenging to Oscar and to others. Oscar might be willing to surrender that portion of the territory to you, thinking you a fool for trying to accomplish what he regards as nearly impossible but which you know to be readily achievable. Such reorganization might take you out of Oscar's doomed path while simultaneously placing you on a path to success. These situations are rare, but they're easily overlooked.

Last words

Malice is by no means the only driver of outrageous demands. For example, some people who make outrageous demands are unaware of the degree of outrageousness of their demands. Formulating a strategy or a set of objectives and securing the time and resources necessary to carry out that work require a degree of competence in the relevant fields of knowledge. Recognizing the outrageousness of an outrageous demand also requires competence in those same fields. Because of a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, [Kruger 1999] [Brenner 2020.2] incompetence in aligning resources to objectives can cause people to be unaware of their own incompetence. Unless Oscar is competent in the relevant fields, his demands might be outrageous, he might be unaware that they are, and he might regard anyone who disputes his plans as incompetent or worse. Go to top Top  Next issue: Briefing Uphill  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesIs a workplace bully targeting you? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!

Footnotes

Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Kruger 1999]
Justin Kruger and David Dunning. "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77:6 (1999), 1121-1134. Available here. Retrieved 17 December 2008. Back
[Brenner 2020.2]
Richard Brenner. "Capability Inversions and the Dunning-Kruger Effect," Point Lookout blog, June 3, 2020. Available here. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Two orcasWhen Leaders Fight
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?
An old-fashioned punch clockThings We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.
George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: II
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during trainingWhen the Answer Isn't the Point: II
Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternWorkplace Anti-Patterns
We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?

See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.