As you’ll know I’ve just started a new job and am in the process of learning how my manager likes to work. Mostly I’m figuring out how he wants me to manage his diary and emails but also how he prioritises his time, which calls he will take and if he really does have an open door policy. This is knowledge that an assistant can only gain over time but eventually it does become second nature and this is where I think we have to be very cautious. We are gatekeepers to our managers and sometimes keeping people away from the boss will result in us telling lies or confusing the truth so that our manager is not disturbed.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, particularly after Rebekah Brooks’ (Chief Exec of News International) PA was charged, along with her boss, with conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice. I think it is fair to say that quite often we do lie for our managers, for example if they receive a sales call I will quite often say that they are in a meeting rather than say they have absolutely no interest in anything you are selling and never will do, which is of course the truth! The same is true with colleagues that want a meeting but really are just taking up large amounts of the Director’s time unnecessarily or replying to an email instead of your boss because it is unimportant to them. All of these activities probably take place three or four times a day, seem to be part of our role as gatekeeper and I would imagine we don’t even think to ourselves that we are actually lying to someone. Our bosses are not asking us to lie for them but I don’t think they would discourage it either, and I suppose these little white lies are not really harming anyone. But what happens when your boss does ask you to lie for them or do something that you feel uncomfortable about? How should you handle it and when should you most definitely say no?
I think these are really difficult questions and thankfully I have never been put in a situation where I have had to say no to one of my directors but here are a few tips I’ve learnt over the years that I would call upon if I was…
Think before you answer
Depending on how the request is delivered do not reply straight away, if it is face to face write the request down but do not commit to doing it. Ask yourself what is it that they are asking you and is it really unreasonable? If so what is making you feel uncomfortable specifically? Having this clear in your mind before speaking to your manager will help you remain clear and to the point. It may also give them time to rethink what they have asked you in the first place.
Prepare what you are going to say
Now that you have decided you won’t lie for your manager or do what they have asked prepare your answers. Be honest with them, if you feel uncomfortable then say so and give a reason, the last thing you want to do is lie about why you don’t want to lie! I don’t think your manager will appreciate your honesty but they will probably respect you for it. I find it helpful to rehearse the conversation in your mind and also out loud (in private!) I also would try to anticipate the questions your manager will ask and think of suitable responses.
Choose the right time and location
You are about to say no to your boss, they probably are not going to be happy with you so whatever you say make sure it is in private and at a time that is convenient for them. If they are not a morning person, wait until the afternoon. Why make the discussion harder for yourself than needs be!
Give and take
Depending on what they have asked you to lie about you can offer an alternative approach or a compromise but don’t jeopardise your morals if you feel strongly enough about the situation. If there is some sort of middle road that will mean you are still able to do part of what your manager is requesting then at least attempt to do that. Hopefully they will understand you are trying to help despite your reservations.
Remember if you are being asked to do something that is not in the best interest of yourself, the company or it is illegal then say no straight away and I would also suggest reporting the occurrence to either HR or a senior manager because as we have seen in the news you are just as culpable as your manager if caught and frankly it doesn’t seem worth it!
Have you ever been in a situation like this, how did you handle it and did you say no in the end?