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Designer, speaker and educator Meg Lewis (@yourbuddymeg) is our resident advice columnist for our 6-part Ask a Designer series, where we aim to get real, get deep, and get practical with your most burning questions about life and career in the creative industries. Today, Meg talks about how to set proper boundaries at work, even when it comes to your manager.
I’m finding myself getting stressed and anxious more and more recently. There are deadlines being put in place by my manager that are simply unrealistic and I and others have expressed this but nothing changes. I hate not meeting deadlines and I hate rushing work through at lower quality for the sake of someone’s ego. I’ve asked for the reasons and they simply aren’t valid. The main reason was ‘so we can learn more quickly’ … but an extra week or two is the difference between me being able to live and feel calm or work overtime and be stressed.
On top of the deadlines, there’s a lot of micro-management. For example, I’m being asked for design files so they can copy and paste things into new designs (I need to redo these anyway so it’s pointless them doing it - they refuse to wireframe because they like to work ‘visually’), or just getting too involved with design related things instead of leaving me to do my job. Right now, we are doing a rebrand and a brand new website so there is a lot to do design wise. My manager has signed up to Canva and other templated sites too which really defeats the point of me being there. Any advice on what I should do? I’ve tried telling her and so have others but she just doesn’t change.
I’m sorry this is happening to you. You deserve to work in a place that trusts you and respects the work that you do. It sounds like you’ve done what you can to communicate effectively and set boundaries. That’s important and good on you ol’ chap for doing it! The root of the issue sounds like your manager doesn’t understand the value of design and the importance it has on whatever product or service your company provides. If they’re running off to — sexy, but emotionally unavailable — Canva to bypass your work, it’s incredibly disrespectful to the design process and the progress you’ve made for the brand. Given that you’ve addressed your concerns, it sounds like your manager doesn’t totally trust you. Giving up trust is completely common problem among managers, but heck if this isn’t something we can turn into an exciting opportunity for your goofball manager to grow! When trust and respect are missing it creates environments of un-fulfillment for all parties. No one wins. I reeealllyy just want your manager to sit down with their nightly bowl of ice cream and say, “Gee what a swell team I have!”.
I’d love to suggest a negotiation and boundary setting tactic that has a proven success rate for me. It’s formerly called the DEARMAN method and it’s an acronym for a lot of words I cannot remember, so let’s change it to the DEARMEG method. It stands for:
Describe Emotion Ask Reward Make a drink Eat nachos Go to sleep
The DEARMEG method means you should start by describing the issue you want to address. Focus on the facts and lay out the information so your manager can understand that what you’re saying is real and true. Mention how important design is to the product or service and the time it takes to fully complete the creative process. Next, you’ll express the emotions you feel about what’s going on in the form of “I feel” statements. In your case you’d say, “I feel like this isn’t the best use of my skillset as a designer because it’s producing stressed, rushed, low-quality work.” You’ll then move to my favorite part and ask for what you want. Provide an alternate solution and the plan you’ve formulated. Your solution will be amazing and perfect because it will fix everything and make you feel better. Lastly, you’ll present the reward that both your manager and the company will receive for agreeing to your new plan. This is when you can sell the benefits of your ask. In your case, if your ask is to spend adequate, comfortable time developing a design system, you can mention the many rewards your manager will receive. They will be able to create design assets on their own quickly and efficiently due to the detailed guide of do’s and don’ts they can reference. It will greatly benefit the company as it will free up design time spent on usual small design tasks and allow you to spend your time doing the projects they had since been been putting off.
Provide an alternate solution and the plan you’ve formulated. Your solution will be amazing and perfect because it will fix everything and make you feel better.
After you’ve made this negotiation with your manager you can execute my favorite part of DEARMEG by fixing yourself a tasty beverage, help yourself to a hearty sheet tray of nachos, and go to bed by 9:30.
The easiest and most successful way to change someone’s mind is to offer up the facts, tell a story about how it affects you, propose a solution to replace their old way of thinking, and excitedly express how they’ll benefit from this new mindset. Once you present this approach to your manager, I truly hope they’ll come around. It takes time to change people’s minds and you often have to present the same facts over and over before you do. And, heck, if your manager never changes their mind you can quit your job and join the circus with me! I need a partner for my scarves routine.
Meg Lewis is a designer making experiences for happy companies and a speaker and educator creating more fulfilling lives for humans of all kinds. Meg empowers individuals to discover their unique selves through books, video series, workshops, and talks titled Full Time You. She also founded Ghostly Ferns, an international collective of designers and commercial artists.