Professional Development: How to Push Back
Have you ever had to push back on someone at work, or even at home?
Pushing back on someone can be uncomfortable — whether it is directed at a peer, a boss, or a client. It can feel even more uncomfortable if you potentially don’t have as much experience as the person you’re pushing back on.
What Pushing Back Means & Its Place in the Workplace
By “push back” what I’m referring to is basically the point when you need to defend or stand up for a project/deadline you are working on in order to keep expectations and standards appropriate. I find this usually is necessary when expectations become misaligned between stakeholders and/or stakeholders are falling behind on what they originally agreed to.
I recently found myself in a meeting with OpenView’s founder, Scott Maxwell, discussing how to push back in the professional world. He explained to my team, “don’t accept any behavior in your professional life that you would not accept in your personal life.”
That makes sense, right? Would we let a friend or acquaintance walk all over us, blow us off consistently, or generally disrespect us without saying one word about it, even greeting them with a smile and a nod? Probably not.
However when it comes to similar situations at work, keep in mind that there is a fine line between sticking up for something and being unprofessional.
How to Push Back Effectively
I find the best way to push back is to be factual and direct. There is no need to involve your emotions, because then the issue will become subjective rather than objective. Your main goal is to point out the faults in the situation, remind stakeholders of the project requirements that they agreed to, and either resolve the faults or end the project until they can be resolved.
Personally, I usually write this out in an email. At times, though, I find myself feeling awkward for being so direct with someone and tend to water down the message with words and phrases like, “please”, “when you get a chance,” or “if you could possibly.”
I am learning that by adding these bits of fluff, I am becoming less direct when my message should in fact be very direct. My overly nice statements can misconstrue the entire tone of the message. Pushing back respectfully but effectively takes confidence and practice — it is a skill I’m continuing to work on and develop.
I would love to hear how everyone else deals with these types of issues. What is your best advice for handling situations when you need to push back on someone in the workplace?