TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
Sometimes I hear my boss promise things I know we can’t deliver. I know he’s just trying to reassure the client and land the sale, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable. I want to correct him, but I also want to respect him—especially in front of our clients. Is there a way to correct someone so gently it won’t be embarrassing?
Thank you for mentioning a challenge many of us face: hearing ourselves or others overpromising and underdelivering, or making promises presumptively that later result in retractions and disappointment.
Sometimes these exaggerations are fairly minor, and we can chalk them up to momentary ignorance of some facts, immaturity, or personality types. We all know someone who says, “See you at 3 p.m.” and we know that means at least 3:15 or 3:30. And many of us use too many superlatives in our speaking, and should measure our words more carefully.
But your question speaks to serious matters of integrity, and we need the Lord’s wisdom as we prepare a strategy that will serve client expectations and our company’s reputation. With Ephesians 4:22–5:2 as a guiding text, here are three actions that can help change the situation.
First, prayerfully ask the Lord to show you your boss’s needs and what lies underneath the overpromising (Eph. 4:22–24). God will not make you the judge of anyone’s heart or soul, but the Lord can give you compassion as you see your boss’s history and personality, gifts, and insecurities. This will increase your compassion and often give you the wisdom you need to help your boss grow and heal. Allow Colossians 3:12-17 to fill your heart as you pray.
2. Private Conversation
Second, take some time in private conversation (Eph. 4:25). Express your enthusiasm for the company and your desire for the business to succeed. Then ask your boss if he sees the problem. In his mind, the promises may be provocations to compel the team to work harder. Ask permission to speak critically and, with kindness, give examples of his enthusiasm going too far (Eph. 4:26–29)
Use questions more than statements when possible. For example, if the promised delivery or project completion is well ahead of normal timeframes, you might say, “Did you realize that your promise was far ahead of our normal workflow? Are you planning for more overtime or hiring more contractors?” Allow your questions to give your boss time to breathe and reflect.
I hope your kindness and desire for your boss’s good will shine (Eph. 4:32). What you are doing is giving him every opportunity for correction that can be seen as his idea.
3. Confer on Details
Third, if your boss gives wrong information or makes unrealistic promises in the heat of a client presentation, ask the client for a moment while you confer on details. Pull your boss aside and make your case.
Offer explanations to the client such as “We are busier than expected, so our delivery will be____” or “That information referenced another situation, but in your case, here is the best we know.” Only offer such public critique if the errors are egregious. Otherwise, offer to give the client revised details as the contracts are prepared.
Exaggeration vs. Lying
One more insight can guide your actions. Exaggeration, when more than a momentary lapse and when done in full knowledge of reality, is really the equivalent of lying. Ideally you will not need to level such a strong accusation, but for your own conscience and for the good of the company, keeping this in mind will help with corporate ethics.
Rather than accuse, you may be able to ask your boss (after these steps), “Do you see how the customer might see your projections as misleading?” This tactic is for serious moments, but it is biblically sound and could be a providential help in bringing grace to the situation.
Alas, there are times when human obstinance refuses the best and most winsome advice. There are times we must, after every gentle petition, appeal to authority above our immediate boss. The dramatic example of Scripture is Paul’s appeal to Caesar as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11). This only came after many dialogues and hearings. Because you have prayed, kept careful records, done everything possible to correct with respect, and because the reputation of the organization is at stake, going above your boss is a righteous act.
1 Corinthians 13 calls forth the highest virtues and does surgery on our souls as we desire the best for those who are making mistakes. Patience, kindness, bearing difficulty, believing the best—these are hard in the middle of daily battles. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can allow even these hard moments to transform our character, building spiritual muscle and expanding our heart of compassion.