When given a deadline you know you really cannot meet, propose an alternative you can meet – that’s called making a counteroffer.
If you don’t counteroffer when you know something cannot be done, you’re setting up yourself and others for failure.
What do you do when someone asks you to do something you know you can’t get done? Do you say “Yes” and hope things will work out somehow? Or say “Yes” knowing you’ll deal with the consequences later? Or say “Yes” and break other promises for on-time performance?
A better way to deal with the situation is to make a counteroffer. Counteroffers are one way to respond to the requests that make up Performance Conversations. A counteroffer is where you say, “I can’t do A, but I can do B”. For example, say, “I can’t get it for you by 5:00 PM today, but I can get it for you by 3:00 PM tomorrow.” Another type of counteroffer is, “I can’t do A unless B happens”. For example, say, “I won’t be able to do that today unless we can extend the due date on Project B by at least a day.”
Counteroffers communicate two important things. First, that you are not currently in a position to accept their request. And second, that you are willing to work something out. It says that you will be responsible for what you promise, and it prevents the need for excuses later on.
To be effective, counteroffers must be made with integrity. You can’t just say, “I’m too busy,” or, “I don’t have time.” A counteroffer is an alternative promise that includes a request. You are offering to do something, and you are re-negotiating the due dates of one or more other projects.
Counteroffers can be very effective. You don’t always get all the leeway you ask for, but that should remind you to ask for as much as you think you need. It’s worth giving them a try, even if you think the people around you are pretty inflexible. You just might be surprised.