Why Executives Become Confrontational during a Project Update and What You Can Do About It

3 Minute Read

Have you conveyed problems during a project update to your Senior Executive?

Did the meeting become confrontational and you felt your work was torn apart in the meeting?

Did you panic and leave the meeting wondering what you should do next?


If you are giving updates to your Senior Executive and whenever you tell them about the problems, barriers or risks encountered, the meeting spirals out of control, this article is for you.

Your Perspective

You are a Senior Manager tasked with implementing a programme or an initiative and as the project progresses, you discover risks, barriers and problems which means the project will not be able to be delivered on time.

You report back to your Senior Executive about it and you expect them to suggest ways forward. Instead, they become confrontational, perhaps even aggressive.

You feel panic and even upset, wondering: "why are they getting upset with me? I am just telling them what I discovered." You feel there is no proper risk management and a few weeks later you come back to them with even bigger problems. ´╗┐You feel demotivated, demoralised and lost. "What do I do now?".

All the Senior Executive told you was: "Don't come to me with problems, come to me with solutions."

Your Senior Executive's Perspective

You're worried about the multiple, concurring deadlines you have to deliver on the projects to your board or fellow VP/C Level Executives. You're hoping your Senior Manager (SM) has good news and the project is developing as agreed, but the SM tells you details you don't need to know and throws onto you all these other small problems they should be solving.

You feel they don't understand the pressures you are under and they bring you problems they should solve themselves.

All your want is for your SM to either make those problems go away, or tell you some simple options where you can easily make a decision that helps you make those problems go away.

Bottom Line

The key to preventing the meeting from becoming confrontational is to show the Senior Executive that you are aware they have bigger problems to solve and you also want to make this problem go away as soon as possible.


The Formula for a Collaborative Update Meeting

Here is a formula giving your update (including the bad news about the project) without the meeting turning confrontational:


Step 1 - 5 Minutes, not more

Make your update last a maximum of 5 minutes - your Senior Executive will only want the highlights, not the details.

Step 2 - What the Senior Executive (SE) wants to know - the structure of your update:

What stage you are at (e.g. "We achieved ABC stage but we are stuck at stage D")

What significant problems you encountered that stop you progressing the project or delay delivery (e.g. "The reason we are stuck at stage D is because we discovered X problem.")

What is the solution or options you researched to solve these problems and what you'd need the SE to do/agree so you can get on with implementing solutions and deliver the project on time (see below the example).

Step 3

The solution or options you give need to be clear and simple enough for the SE to choose one and fully understand the consequences of each one.

E.g.: "Considering X problem, from my research we have 3 options to make this problem go away:

Option 1 - It would solve X entirely, but we'd spend 3-6 months to do XYZ and put DEF procedures in place. This means we would delay Y stage delivery time by 3 months, but it would mean X is fully resolved and it won't affect LMN. For us to implement this solution, you would have to agree a 3 months delay of Y stage.

Option 2 - We could do only parts 1-3 of problem X to satisfy top 3 requirements, this would partially solve problem X, and would only delay the project by a week. This means we would not be able to do Z, but it we would be able to do ABC. For us to implement this solution, you would have to confirm you are happy for us not to do Z.

Option 3 - We work around problem X by doing ABC now and keep this technical debt, which we can work on in Q3. This means team T would have to do 3 weeks of work, I already spoke to them and they agreed to do it, as long as you sign off on their deadline being moved by 1 month, from July 2018 to August 2018."

Next time your deliver a project update, remember your boss wants what you want - to finish the project on time and successfully. Help them help you by looking for solutions and options. If you present them only with the problems, they will feel overwhelmed. All they need to know is what is stopping you from achieving your milestone on time and what you need them to do to solve it.


Talk to us about your challenge:

The Geek Whisperer

1 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge, CB2 8BB, United Kingdom

Email: adelina@geekwhisperer.co.uk