When I've said "you can't have it both ways" to my boss, and my former professor, they reacted negatively. This leads me to wonder if this phrase is considered impolite. Is it?
If so, what's a polite alternative?
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Let's say boss wants to continue using the same software but at the same time is telling you under no circumstances to continue using the same software. You could say (using his/her verbatims language as much as possible):
On the one hand, you want me to continue using the same software. On the other hand, you instructed me not to continue to use the same software, under any circumstances. (Cite the dates if it will help.) Now I'm in a quandary, unsure which set of instructions to follow. Could you please clarify?
That's just an example.
If aparente001 didn’t cover all the bases then how is this question about language and usage, rather than negotiation skills or assertiveness, please? What makes you sure they’re wrong to write that uncertainty is a part of your work in particular and that you need to learn to navigate it, and so on?
Half the problem with "you can't have it both ways" is that it's a statement; a conclusion that pushes them into your corner so they'll prolly find it hard to take even from an equal…
You need to ask them first to clarify the parameters.
“You’re asking for the quick path. Is that right?"It might be better to ask: “We're looking for the quick path. Is that right?"
“I think you also want a great result, yes?” or perhaps" "We also want a great result, yes”
“Is there an inconsistency there?” If they say "No" then loop back until you're sure whether it's you or they who have misunderstood.
Having established that much, it should be they who set the priorities, partly to massage their egos and partly to leave them carrying any blame.
“So, we need to take the quick path and we also need a great result; is that right? Which is the priority here?”