“I need the Q3 figures yesterday,” or “I want the unit price dropped by ten percent by next week’s quarterly review,” many of us have experienced the stomach lurch of panic when our superiors hit us with deadlines we know we can’t deliver to.

When deadlines are set by management, it’s much more difficult to decline, push back and renegotiate. As employees you may find yourself stressed, working later, taking work home, defeated and somewhat less productive out of panic.

The elusive dream of pushing back with “No thank you, I have other priorities.” is rarely a reality. Dan Carrison writes in his book Deadline: How Premier Organizations Win the Race Against Time, we find ourselves having “no option but to accept the challenge briskly, as soon it is presented by management.” You don’t see soldiers receiving orders and then saying “wait one moment, let me consider this” before agreeing, and likewise, we rarely have the chance to take a breath and ask for a moment to assess our priorities before saying yes.

For that reason, I wanted to share a few tools to help you reasonably respond to these high-pressure situations I want you to confidently be able to influence your superior, generate empathy and mutual understanding, and enable adequate resourcing in response to this.

1. Find your bosses’ strengths and USE them

This may at first be counter-intuitive as you may believe it reflects your own weaknesses and inexperience, however to the art of refraining from immediately looking introspectively when faced with an unrealistic goal. Instead, look to them for guidance, often your superiors will have a set of skills that have led them to career accession, what are their skills and how can you capitalise on their knowledge. Mirroring this and asking them for feedback on re-prioritising will not only generate awareness about your workload but empower them to make a call on this. A simple response such as, “No problem, I can do that for you. Currently, I have tasks A, B, C due by COB, what is the highest priority and I will make sure I get that done, and with your permission do my best to reassess the others deadlines.”

Going into a meeting or negotiation without your winning and losing numbers or stats can show weakness. You want to curate the data that will win arguments, emphasising the value you’re delivering.

2. Embrace the role of being your boss’s temporary psychologist

This means being an active listener, being empathetic and giving conscientious evaluations. This leads onto one of six CABL Attitudes and Behaviours for Effective Negotiators, Trust. By being involved in your boss’s thought process and emotive rollercoaster you can be the confidant and support medium your boss may need, and in turn, you may be able to reshuffle real priorities and deadlines. Saying “It really does sound you have a lot on your plate.” or “Can you spare five minutes, I would like to pick your brain about the most efficient way to action this.” Or “It sounds like both of us won’t be home for dinner.” can conjure simple mutual comradery to generate awareness that you are both busy.

‘By being involved in your boss’s thought process and emotive rollercoaster you can be the confidant and support medium your boss may need’

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3. The Half-Halt

You are going at maximum capacity, and compromising quality in order to meet these deadlines. Halfway through you realise the output of your work is not to the standard you are proud to deliver. The ability to recognise we are human, and then taking ownership and talking to your boss about this can lead to better outcomes. If you analyse the task, assess the resources you have and the time allocated, and you know it’s going to be a rush job, knock on your superiors door, ask for five minutes, and explain that you can meet the deadline. This may be coupled with a compromise. Knowing it reflects on them, ask them if they value the delivery of content in time first, or if they would rather renegotiate the deliverable deadline. Most great bosses will value you for taking pride in your work and for being responsible enough to address this with them – they are human after all!

4. How much time have you got?

Resist over-optimism regarding time, get organised and be real with the actual allotted time you have. If you can’t meet the deadline, devise alternatives that can get you to deliver close or at the deadline. This may be represented by proposing a new solution, for example, “I know Emily from finance has worked with our client before. With your permission, I can speak with her boss about our situation in private and use her skillset for a few hours. This can save us three hours of meaning we will be able to meet the deadline,” or “This job will take around four hours, how strict is this deadline, and is there a way given the notice period was short that we can push back and request another 12 hours? I am happy to discuss this with the client.” This shows creativity, initiative, and detailed time management whilst ensuring your boss feels they are still in control.

Lastly, there is a bright side, you can avoid having to do all of this! All you need to do is chose to be involved in extremely long projects where deadlines are consistently pushed back and altered so that you will never have to face a deadline in the near future!



Giuseppe Conti is the founder of CABL (www.cabl.ch), a firm that offers a range of customized training in the field of negotiation and influencing.

Since 2005, he is an award-winning Professor and Lecturer at leading business schools throughout Europe (Cambridge, EPFL, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IESE, IMD, Imperial College, INSEAD, London Business School, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, UBIS, University of Geneva and University of St Gallen), recognized for his lively and interactive training workshops.

He runs negotiation workshops in four continents. Corporate leaders from multinational corporations and individuals from over 90 different countries have attended his workshops.