my boss asks for my input, won’t take it, and then turns out to be wrong

A reader writes:

I have a dilemma that I’m not sure what to do about. Background: I work for a small consulting firm in which we all telecommute and work from home. Boss is a late-60s workaholic who keeps saying he might retire one of these days and I (late-30s, female) am one of only two other full-time employees besides him. Technically I am in the marketing department but I am really his assistant and wear many hats. I have been working for him for eight years now.

Here’s the dilemma: Frequently my boss will ask my opinion about something, disagree with me, and then when what I suggested turns out to be the right thing to do, will then change his mind and agree with me. Here are three recent examples:

• He wanted me to make two order forms for an item we were selling. He wanted one order form for when people wanted to order only one copy of our handbook and a second order form with volume discounts that we could send out to people who requested the list of volume discounts. I replied that I couldn’t understand why we would have two separate order forms as I have never seen such a thing for any other items in the world. We got into a GIANT disagreement, I finally caved and created the two order forms, and a month later he decided to just make one order form for any possible orders of the handbook.

• For the same handbook, he wanted to charge people a set amount to ship one book and for me to figure out how much our printer was charging to ship multiple copies and charge purchasers at cost for shipping multiple copies. This time I asked, rather than stated my opinion, whether since the difference between shipping one copy and shipping multiple copies was minimal, wouldn’t it be easier to just charge the same for shipping any number of copies? He hemmed and hawed but finally, after my having to put off charging purchasers for shipping, agreed with me.

• For a previous edition of the handbook, he wanted to send out review copies to about 80 people asking for their suggestions and he wanted to do so as inexpensively as possible. He asked me to research several online printing options and suggest which one would be the best to use. I told him that the cheapest option had an absolutely terrible user interface and that ordering with that system was “fraught with peril” (yes, I used that phrase) and suggested the second-cheapest. He decided to go with the cheapest against my suggestion, and then when we were ordering copies from that website it went TERRIBLY WRONG and we ended up ordering from my suggested website.

TL;DR: It is making me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter. What’s particularly galling is that many times when he asks what I think I don’t really have an opinion, so I feel like the rare times I really feel strongly about something I have very solid reasons for feeling that way. It is very frustrating and I’m trying to figure out what to do so that he will actually listen to me and agree with me the first time around so that I don’t have to sit at home and think, “I told you so” but never actually say it.

I also feel like my being 30 years younger than him makes him think that I am just a kid who doesn’t know anything, but if that’s the case, then why does he ask my opinion about these things in the first place? And of course I’m not a kid, I’m nearly 40 and I do know things, so how can I be more assertive in these cases?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Captain Radish

    My old boss was like this for the most part: thinking he was absolutely correct (despite myself and my coworker) until he discovered that he wasn’t. My coworker and I eventually just gave up and started saying “yup, you’re right boss!”

    Some people will never learn, unfortunately.

    Reply
  2. Clever Name

    There’s nothing more annoying than having one’s solicited opinion ignored. I’ve said to a coworker who does the same thing, “It sounds like you really just want an affirmation of what you plan to do and you aren’t actually interested in my opinion.”

    Reply
    1. Simonthegreywarden

      My mom has gone with the “It sounds like you already decided what to do” line on myself and my sister before.

      Reply
    2. nofelix

      I agree with Alison that people solicit opinions from others for varying reasons. Off the top of my head, someone might ask your opinion because:

      – they respect your judgement.
      – you may have information they lack.
      – you often have interesting perspectives.
      – they’re gauging your reaction.
      – they want to add your opinion to ones they’ve heard so far.
      – they’re evaluating how you solve problems.

      All of these might legitimately result in a decision contrary to your advice. It’s also worth remembering that being proved right doesn’t always mean you *were* right. Maybe the savings from 80 handbooks were significant enough to warrant giving their website a try even if it was bad last time.

      Reply
  3. AnotherAlison

    Oooh, I might be reading to much into this from my own experience, but I wonder if the OP has just reached the point where the little things have accumulated enough that she is fed up and it is time to move on. I completely understand her frustration with the examples given, but I spent a few years working with someone who was like that. It never bothered me until I was completely otherwise over that position. Then it all felt personal. I felt he was wasting my time, not company time.

    Anyway, 8 yrs in the type of role described would he enough for me.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I was thinking that too. If I were the OP, I’d also try to reframe the process. Eventually the boss *does* take her suggestion–he just needs to work through his versions first. So I’d try considering suggestions not as immediate action items but as ultimate targets–IOW, I’d suggest in the expectation that we’d do other stuff before we’d get there, but we’d get there.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I am the OP and yes, I am looking for a new job. Have my first interview this week – crossing fingers it goes well!

        Reply
        1. Captain Radish

          Good luck! Trust me on this, having a boss (or in my case bosses) that actually listen to you and act on your advice is WONDERFUL. It only took me ten years to find a company that does so.

          Reply
        2. MillersSpring

          Good luck! I came here to add that I definitely think you are ready for a role where you get to make the decisions. Look for director-level positions and be confident in your readiness.

          Reply
        3. esra

          Fingers crossed for you! It’s really hard to get out of Boss Eating Crackers mode, a fresh start would be great.

          Reply
        4. RVA Cat

          Good luck! It sounds like good idea to move on or at least test the waters, especially if the owner retiring would mean closing down the business (possibly with very little notice, and with him flying off to Tahiti or something and not being able to give you references). Much better to leave on your own terms.

          Reply
        5. Cassandra

          Good luck! Having your opinion respected and followed after years of nobody giving it an instant’s credence is absolutely wonderful.

          Reply
  4. Whats In A Name

    I don’t have a boss like this, but I have a co-worker that I have to work with who does this. I have started to write in about so many times on the open thread. I am sure at time it feels like your boss is asking you opinion and doing just the opposite because, well, he can.

    I think you should realize this is more a reflection on him that others. Maybe at some point earlier in his career someone told him to get input from others so he does, but has no plans to use it regardless of who is he talking with. Maybe he is a blow hard with a “prove to me my way doesn’t work” attitude so that’s why it happens this way. Who knows?

    The only thing I can advise is to actively try to manage it from your end. When asked your opinion, state your thoughts and let it go. Don’t debate or belabor the point to try to win him to your side. Don’t present more facts that necessary unless asked. Especially if it’s something that truly doesn’t affect your work output or product. Let him do his own thing. Then when it comes back to you that you were right, like Alison said, silently smirk to yourself.

    I know that is a lot easier said than done; it’s taken me over a year to work on this and I still stumble everyday. In fact I have a meeting with my co-worker in 45 minutes and will spend the 10 minutes before she gets here meditating.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Ha! I should start meditating too – another coworker goes to meditation retreats annually and he says they’re really helpful.

      Reply
      1. Venus Supreme

        I have to say, I started going to yoga classes 1-2 times per week back in October and I noticed I’m less… angsty. I’m part of a four-person department and the three of them are all best buds. I still get perturbed about how I’m the odd one out when it comes to social events, but the yoga practices help me lose my grudge! Definitely not a solution to your problem, but hey worth a shot.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Honestly, this really helped me when I started getting overly invested in some of the decisions being made at my OldJob. At first I was super frustrated and felt like my time was being wasted (I was basically living in the scenario AnotherAlison mentioned, above), and meditation really helped me get zen and let go of it while I job searched. I also find that body work (therapeutic massage, chiro visits, and/or acupuncture) and boxing/kickboxing help.

        Good luck as you job search, OP!

        Reply
    2. Candy

      “state your thoughts and let it go.”

      This really is the best advice. My boss does something similar to this as well. Every time me or one of my coworkers make a suggestion she will immediately say no. Every time. Then she will either come back a week later having changed her mind and suggest we try it, or we’ll do it her way and later have to change course and do it as we suggested in the first place. It’s maddening and I don’t know why she thinks we don’t know how to do our jobs and for the longest time I would just stop speaking up because it felt pointless. But now I just think: this is what she’s like and I know she will say no at first, so I’ve just learned to say my piece then let it go. If she comes back and agrees, fine. If not, that’s fine too. Not my problem really in the grand scheme of things.

      Reply
  5. Pup Seal

    My boss is like this too, though I think he’s starting to come around. He’s a science guy, so sometimes if I provide him “proof” why he follow take my advice, he’s more likely to take it. But sadly not always. The sad thing is I was hired because of my marketing and communications background, so it is very frustrating when your boss won’t listen to your expertise.

    Reply
  6. PatPat

    Did anyone read the comments on the NYMag article? They weren’t Youtube level but they really made me appreciate the civility that Alison encourages on her site. It’s nice to visit a site where commenters are generally kind, thoughtful, and ascribe good intent to the letter writers.

    Thanks, Alison!

    Reply
    1. BRR

      I think a big difference is the letter is edited on their site. The people still aren’t nice there but on here the letter establishes more of a track record for the boss.

      Reply
      1. Venus Supreme

        I noticed that. It makes me beyond frustrated at NYMag for not putting OP in a better light. They couldn’t have done a better job at editing? Those comments are nasty!

        Reply
          1. OP

            I don’t blame you. It was an awfully long and boring letter….

            Oh, wait, I wrote it!

            Thanks for the warning, everyone. I have NOT read the comments over there because you have scared me off. Any good ones I should know about?

            Reply
    2. esra

      Yea… I was about to comment the same thing. I’m glad we can comment here, because woof, New York Magazine comments.

      Reply
    3. Anne (with an "e")

      After reading PatPal’s comment I looked at the comments over at NYMag. SMH. Just….wow!?!?
      I agree with PatPal. Thank you, Alison.

      Reply
    4. WildLandLover

      I did and I was appalled at the rudeness! Thanks to Alison and the commenters on this site for being civil, thoughtful people!

      Reply
  7. Murphy

    This sounds super frustrating. I can’t think of anything to do besides point it out and ask him about it, like Alison said, or just to make sure that when you feel strongly about something that you’re making a really good case for it. Have clear reasons why this is the way to go, point out potential problems with going the other way, etc. But I’m sure you’re already doing that, and you mention some of it in your letter.

    Reply
  8. Government Worker

    I agree with Allison’s speculation that it might be time for a new job, despite the trivial nature of these incidents on their own. It sounds like there are enough of these incidents or that your frustration has built enough over time that you just don’t really respect your boss as a manager/decision-maker. Jobs where you don’t respect the decisions your boss is making and the reasons behind them, even if you disagree, tend to just get more and more unhappy.

    The best bosses are the ones who have more experience, more knowledge, and better judgment than the people working for them, or who acknowledge where they don’t and listen to their employees in those areas. That’s not what’s going on here.

    Reply
  9. Cila

    Try “managing up” aka figuring out a way to lead him to the better option, but also know when to drop something.
    For example: he asked you “to research several online printing options and suggest which one would be the best to use” -note that he said best, not cheapest. You could have presented him with the second-cheapest only and said it was best in terms of options and quality vs. low price. If asked if there was a cheaper option, you could have replied honestly that there was one that was slightly cheaper, but had horrible reviews and issues that put it out of the running.
    I would have dropped the shipping cost thing rather than holding orders hostage and risking upsetting both boss and clients. It would have been easy to make up a reference table or algorithm and customers understand that shipping more costs more.
    It’s also possible that he’s refusing to back down in the moment because you’re presenting your ideas in a way that comes across as adversarial or inflexible. It’s more constructive to ask why he wants two versions of the order form, listen, and then suggest how to achieve the same result on a single form, than to say you don’t want to do it because no one else is doing it, plus it’s dumb, and dig in your heels.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Oooh, good idea. I should have presented him with the second-cheapest option and not the first. I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

      He did say why he wanted two order forms: he wanted to be able to send the multiple-copy order form only to people who were thinking about ordering multiple copies so we could follow up with them more aggressively. So, you know, to make a note of who was thinking about ordering two or more copies and then when they didn’t order them within a certain amount of time, to ask them if they were still considering ordering books. (This didn’t seem like a very good reason to me but I don’t remember if I said anything about it at the time.)

      Reply
      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        As a consultant I’m used to presenting options for my clients, and I’m lucky that they usually trust my judgement, but I also know how to lay them all out and let them choose. Is it possible that he might be having trouble understanding the pros and cons of the choices you’re presenting? They should all be laid out for him in the beginning, not after he seizes on one choice like a dog with a bone, because at that point he may not want to change his mind. And don’t be afraid to lay out your recommendation, but make sure he has all the information.

        If he still constantly makes seemingly random choices that go against your recommendations, then just know that he’s paying you to waste time on bad choices, and since it’s his business you’ll have to be OK with that until you can find another job. There’s something freeing about letting others own their bad choices once you’ve tried your best to persuade them otherwise.

        Reply
        1. OP

          Thanks, Avenger. Yes, I should remember that he is free to make his own bad choices. I do have to learn not to take things so personally.

          Reply
      2. Marty

        Another thought: when he had a reason that you don’t think is very good, it might be worthwhile to look at other ways to achieve the goals of that reason. After all, he has the reason because he added some problem that he wants addressed, there are always multiple ways to address problems.

        For instance, rather than having two order forms, perhaps it would make sense to just have someone ask about how many copies someone was interested in ordering. You would still be able to follow up, but if a client decided later they wanted multiple copies they would still have the right order form.

        Reply
    2. Chickaletta

      Agree. I do this too, as a freelancer with clients. I never present them with an option that’s terrible because if it has a good chance of causing them to fail, then it’s not really an option. Part of what they’re paying me for my expertise and recommendations. If I don’t present them with good recommendations, then I’m not really doing the job they’re paying me to do.

      Reply
  10. LA Gaucho

    The comments/attitude difference between AAM and NYMag commenters…gold!

    One NYMag commenter did bring up a good point though – what happens when this guy retires? Will/Would you still work there. It might be time to spread your wings…

    Reply
    1. OP

      I suspect the company won’t survive his retirement even if he seems to think it will, which is why I’m looking for a new job.

      Reply
  11. The Rat-Catcher

    OP, I feel this situation so much. It’s so frustrating to bring up a problem proactively, end up being correct, and never have that acknowledged. But then you feel like a child saying “Notice that I was right about this thing!”

    I’m lucky in that my boss and coworkers are finally starting to come around on that point. I hope that happens for you too.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Yeah, I try very very very hard not to say “I told you so” to him because I don’t want to be that child. But I certainly say it to myself.

      Reply
      1. MillersSpring

        I think you could point it out the next time he wants to avoid your suggestion, e.g. “Could we try my suggestion? In the past you’ve ended up taking my suggestion after the first option didn’t work out. That has happened many times, so could you trust my recommendation this time?”

        Reply
        1. Charlie

          Oh no, no no no. I’m not even that egotistical about my decisions and this’d get my back up. If somebody told me this, I’d have a very hard time not getting extremely grumpy, let alone following their suggestion.

          Reply
  12. AnamCara

    This happens to me all the time. I have been in a senior Admin role for over 15 years, and regularly get put on projects that are struggling and need a turn around. Dealing with a decision maker that needs help making those decisions is a tough role, but I have developed a pretty good coping strategy.
    1. Ask tons of questions. Sometimes this can get the senior person to see the fault in their proposed idea. It’s easy to get carried away with solutions but you don’t fully understand the problem, or where the other person is coming from.
    2. Make your way the easiest way. Completely plan it out, so all they have to do it go yep, let’s go that way. Use no response as positive. If I don’t hear from you I will just go this way.
    3. Ask them if they would prefer you take it over completely. “I notice you seem to have a lot of issues around shipping, I would be happy to handle all of that for you.” Make sure you frame this as the boss is too busy and important to handle these little things, not he is making a mess of it.
    All the best! It’s not easy!

    Reply
  13. MK

    OP, I get that it’s frustrating, but is your reaction in proportion with the annoyance? Alison asked if there are times when he does take your advice; I would question whether there are times when he goes against your advice and is proved right, or at least not wrong? What I mean is, if he asks your opinion 9 times and then he followed it 3 times and goes against it 6, and of those 6 you are proven right 3 times and he changes his mind and 3 times his way works fine (at least in his view), then maybe he isn’t unreasonable in thinking that his way of operating works fine. So, the first thing would be to take an objective look at what is actually happening; if he really never follows your advice, that’s a problem, but it’s possible that you are focusing too much on those times. “this always happens!!” could be true, or it could be your frustration talking.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I am sure I take some of this a little too personally and I am definitely working on not doing so. Most of the time I literally have no opinion or I do as I’m told, so it’s particularly frustrating that in these rare cases when I do have a strong opinion he disregards it until something goes wrong and then he’ll do what I suggested and fixes the problem.

      I do sometimes have opinions that he disagrees with and that I see that he is right and I am not and I’m completely fine with those situations. I don’t have the numbers for you but I make suggestions that he takes and suggestions that he doesn’t and most of the time things work out. It’s just when they fail in the exact way I think they might if he doesn’t take my advice, it’s tough to not get aggravated.

      Reply
      1. MK

        I get that, but it comes pack and parcel with being a subordinate. When this happens to me, I might have an internal “knew it!” moment, but not this level of frustration. Of course, I trust my supervisor to, if not know better than me, at least have valid reasons when she acts against my input, while your letter gives me the impression that you don’t hold his abilities in high esteem. Also, it helps that my supervisor always gives me credit for being right in the first place.

        Either way, either you need a job where you are more in charge or a boss whose authority you are more comfortable with.

        Reply
      2. CDM

        I also tend to look at all the ways a decision can fail, to plan accordingly. Previous bosses have accused me of being “too negative,”, but when I say something will work, it works. I read an interesting article maybe a year ago, accompanied with a fairly simple number sequence to guess the pattern. More than half of the people guess the number pattern without ever testing a negative assumption – they try numbers they think will work, and never try one that might not work. Only a small fraction of people test three negative assumptions before deciding they know the pattern. (I tried two negative assumptions, myself)

        It may help a bit to look at the situation as your boss is one of the people who looks at the positives and ignores the negatives, which makes it less personal. He isn’t ignoring your input, he just places higher value on different data than you do, while minimizing or ignoring the potential problems.

        I don’t know if it would be at all helpful to ask him, next time this comes up, what his plans are for dealing with possible failures that you’ve identified. “What is your plan in case the interface flakes out completely and we can’t complete the order? If shipping gets delayed because you haven’t decided cost? If two different order forms become confusing and confused?”

        Reply
        1. MissDisplaced

          Let me guess CDM, but I’m willing to bet you are also an INTJ personality type, right?
          OP may also be one, while boss may not be one of the types that likes multiple input or sounding boards and not the hard facts.

          Don’t expect to force bad ideas down an INTJ’s throat. To convince an INTJ, you must have logical proofs that are consistent with whatever research is available.

          Reply
      3. Yorick

        If you want a positive way to look at it, your initial advice gives him a plan to go with when everything goes wrong his way. He may save a great deal of time fixing the mistake, compared to not asking anyone’s opinion and having no idea what to do when there is a disaster.

        Reply
  14. Marissa L

    Those issues don’t seem enough to blow up over. He’s the boss. That won’t change. Just offer your opinion and accept his decision. To continue to internalize it and take it personally will make you both miserable. There’s a lot of anger in that long-winded letter. Maybe it’s time to move on to another job.

    Reply
    1. Isben Takes Tea

      I don’t know–I didn’t read it as anger, just built-up frustration. But I definitely agree that taking it personally will make you both miserable, and maybe a new scene will help the OP feel more appreciated.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Same—I didn’t read anger, but I read pent-up frustration. But it sounds like OP is job hunting, anyway, so hopefully her next gig will allow her to have more ownership over making and implementing decisions like this.

        Reply
  15. caryatis

    I don’t think assertiveness is your problem if you’re already saying stuff like “fraught with peril” and “I couldn’t understand why we would have two separate order forms as I have *never seen such a thing for any other items in the world*.” Is it possible OP’s very strong language is leading the boss to instinctively push back? Some people are like that.

    But I realize the language OP actually used with the boss might be different.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I did say “fraught with peril” and I really meant it, but for the order form it was something like, “I’ve never seen a separate order form for one copy versus multiple copies before.” I try to speak politely when I’m at work.

      In the “fraught with peril” situation, he was pushing back more because he hates spending money and the perilous option was the cheapest by far. It’s hard for him to realize that you get what you pay for and I’m trying to let it go when he wants “cheap” and will also get “bad.” It occurs to me that I can let him make his own mistakes, right?

      Reply
      1. Charlie

        My feeling is that you need to get a lot more detailed and specific. “I’ve never seen it that way before” isn’t a strong argument, and neither is “This is fraught with peril.”

        First off, if there’s an obviously flawed option, don’t even include it. If an alternative cheap but reviewed poorly and functionally problematic, eliminating it from consideration is part of your job as the person putting together alternatives. Manage up, to an extent.

        Second, I’d recommend making your case in specific detail and offering a detailed counterproposal, not just an objection. “I’m concerned that maintaining two order forms would be confusing and nonintuitive to the customer, which will ultimately end up wasting our time or discouraging them from ordering. It’ll also double our costs. I’ve drawn up an alternative order form that includes rates for both single and multiple-item orders, what do you think?”

        Reply
        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Yes, I think in the case we’re talking about, you’d have to give him an idea of the added costs of cheaping out. Even if it’s just your best guesstimate, putting the numbers down and saying “The method that costs $100 now will cause us to spend an extra $20 a month of labor on X, so if we’re still doing this process after 6 months we’ll be losing money by not going with the $200 method, which requires maybe 5 minutes a month, so the cost is negligible, or maybe $20 a year at most.”

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yes, or if the purpose for two forms was to track/follow-up with bulk purchasers (which sounds like the point), then offering a better/different way to achieve that goal would probably make it easier for boss to implement OP’s proposal.

          Reply
  16. shep

    I had a boss like this in a similar situation–very small workplace, and I was her right hand. I wouldn’t have gotten so irritated with her constantly making less than ideal decisions except for the fact that it usually made several hours of additional work for me at the last, incredibly time-sensitive minute. Ugh.

    Reply
  17. Althea

    You could also marshal some numbers for certain arguments. E.g. If he wants to go with the cheapest vendor, you could run a couple back-of-the-envelope calculations and say, “Last time we went with the cheapest vendor with bad reviews, it took me X extra hours of work to straighten out the mess we made, which is more than the difference in cost for the next-cheapest vendor.”

    And choose your battles. I once had a boss that edited everything I did, no matter what it was. And she would edit it multiple times even when she was the last person to review and no one else had touched it. I’d send it to her, she’d edit, I’d accept the changes, re-send it, she’d edit… 3 times, usually. She once told me it was just something she liked to do and had to do. I’d gripe privately, but I eventually just started building in the time it would take her to do multiple reviews, because she definitely wasn’t going to change…

    Reply
    1. Episkey

      My boss does this and it is very frustrating. It’s more frustrating because, in most cases, I can’t make the edits myself (I have to send them to our graphic designer) so it takes forever with the back & forth back & forth to get a finished piece.

      Reply
  18. LQ

    When I have something like this I remind myself that the company pays me to not take it personally. I’d give whoever my opinion on whatever for free. I’ve got lots of them. But they are making a decision to do something else? They are paying me to not be personally invested.

    As long as they aren’t upset, this is a pretty good way to do it. (When they are it is a whole different thing, but if they aren’t upset they spent my time that way? They are paying me to not be either.)

    Reply
  19. memyselfandi

    Is this a new phenomenon? My brother had a CEO who over the last 5 years of the company started to make some crazy decisions and ran the company into the ground. My brother said that either he read somewhere or was told that the onset of dementia can be subtle and accounts for problems at many companies. His CEO was in his early 70’s. In any case, you are looking for a new job.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Good point. I do sometimes worry if he is starting to get dementia – my grandmother had Alzheimer’s so I know a little bit about what to look for – but if he is, it is only very minor at this point. And yes, thank goodness I’m looking for a new job (just got another interview request a minute ago!).

      Reply
  20. Anon 12

    A couple of thoughts on this –

    My teenage daughter used to do this sort of thing to me all the time. Ask for an opinion or dump some grievance on me and then argue when I gave my opinion. It’s not exactly the same scenario but I did learn to ask whether I was a sounding board only or she wanted an opinion on what next step she should take. I also learned to detach when she didn’t like my suggested course of action and just tell her the ball was in her court.
    More work related, because I’m in HR I am frequently not the end decision maker on things. I’m also used to everybody thinking they know more about HR than actual HR people. I’ve learned to give a risk/reward analysis along with the various options. You can do x, but the upside and downside are y. Or you can do A and the upside/downside are B. If anything is a complete non-starter (like I might go to jail if we do that) I say so and people know I’m drawing the line because it’s the right time to do so). The thing is, some decision are more fraught with material peril than others and that kind of approach will help sort out what is a truly horrible decision with calamitous results and from the ones that are simply a different flavor.

    Reply
  21. Workfromhome

    Get a new job. You will not change this boss. I went through similar things with a boss that I actually got in fairly well with. However he would far too often cave in to sales people. The sales people would come to me for expert advice to design a solution for the client. They did this because sales had no real idea how the product worked or what it could do. I would reasearch things and come up with a recommendation. Often it was long the lines of We must do Y because the system is simply incapable of doing X. (Think along in the lines of client wants to heat up food in a refrigerator). I’d propose that the client needed to use a hot plate. Sales would then come back to my boss and say but thethe client really wants to use a refrigerator …can’t we just light the fridge in fire?

    They would then ask me to design some workaround that I knew would fail. I’d often ask them “Hey if you really want to heat things in the fridge why don’t you tell me how you want the fridge configured?” Inevitably they would say “I don’t know that’s your job you are e the technical expert ”

    Point is my boss rather than saying “You asked the technical expert because you don’t know and he says we have to do X” would always cave in and say “We need to make their solution work as best we can…we can’t say no”. That was one of the things that drove me to leave (for my much better job).

    I’m not perfect but if I’m the technical expert then you either take my advice or you get someone else to do it (do it yourself). I’m still in touch with former coworkers that tell me stories of how things are now failing and say “You told us this would happen why didn’t they listen?”

    Go work for someone who actually values what you bring.

    Reply
    1. BeenThere

      This was my life working as a project engineer for a very large global vendor. The typical scenario was sales said we could do this even though it wasn’t scoped in the estimate so magically make it happen with this budget.

      That was one of those places I was very happy to have never owned stock in.

      Reply
  22. Mephyle

    In all three of your examples, he did take your advice, eventually. It just took a few months and lots of failure for him to come around to the sensible option. Granted, your frustration with the repeated pattern is understandable and justifiable. But much worse would have been the boss who dug his heels in and never reversed these decisions.

    Reply
    1. SusanIvanova

      I’m certain I was short-listed for layoffs because I disagreed with my grand-manager – who also happened to be from a culture where women should not be argumentative. I’ve still got friends there and gosh, within a year it became obvious I’d been right. Not that they’ve changed the thing I argued about, because of politics.

      Reply
  23. MissDisplaced

    Oh God OP, this is so frustrating! I used to work for a boss who was very much like that and did the same type of thing. He was always asking for my advice, would not take it, and worse would then belittle and shame my decision/advice in front of others in order to justify his own decision, and then almost inevitably he would be proved wrong when the shit hit the fan about his lousy choice and the company would lose lots of money. Eventually, when he would ask for my opinion/advice I would refrain from giving any by vaguely saying “I don’t have a strong feeling either way about that”… but then he would PUSH and get angry if I did that too. Couldn’t win either way.

    If this is a man, I hate to say it, but I think it’s a lot of crappy sexist behavior and a power game. Often you can’t change these people and I finally moved on.

    Reply
  24. Not So NewReader

    OP, is he stubborn but logical or is he just plain stubborn?
    It matters.
    With stubborn but logical people you can lay out your case ahead of time. Then you present your case as, “I think X is the route to go here’s why: [A, B and C reasons].”

    With stubborn people, they just want to be contrary just for the sake of being contrary.

    Find ways to step back from this. One thing you can do is say, “Boss, on some decisions we spend a lot of time going around and around. The last discussion took well over an hour. To be honest with you, I have other work that I could have done in that time. Going forward, I would like to present my idea and my rationale and then leave the rest to you for you to think over. I think it is the most fair thing to do for you, rather than using huge blocks of time debating something.”
    I would wait until we were in the start of another huge debate, then I would say this and drop it. Cold. Done. I’d return to my other work.

    I have little patience for people who ask my advice and then want to have a long protracted debate over it. No, that is something you do inside your own head. It’s a huge loss of my time to stand there and debate whether to order the orange pens or the green pens. Let me go do my work. I am the same way at home.

    Reply
    1. CanCan

      Even simpler:

      He: “How do you think we should do this?”
      You: “Like This.”
      He: “No, I think like That is better.”
      You: “Have you considered such and such reasons? I think like This would work better because…”
      He: “Ok but I still think That is better.”
      You: “I’m not convinced , but I’ll go and start doing it like That.”

      Reply
  25. MW

    I do wonder whether OP’s boss would change his mind in these situations if OP hadn’t challenged him and outlined these alternatives. Maybe he would carry on with the dubious two-form solution (or similar) even after it proved a bad idea. Hard to say without knowing more. In the interests of stress, though, I’d give the recommendation and then step back, give him enough rope to hang himself with and wait to see your opinion vindicated.

    Reply
  26. Czhorat

    There’s a great deal of positive commentary here. One word of caution: on one of the issues you referenced a “giant fight” with your boss over one of these. I’ve seen people get into conflicts with bosses, clients, and coworkers over things on which they were clearly objectively correct but, because of the power dynamic, were doomed to lose anyway. State your case, listen to the objections. if you feel strongly enough, state it again. Then _stop talking._ There’s nothing really to be gained by dragging the battle on, and you eventually have to admit that that what you want and what they want aren’t compatible.

    You also need to learn to not take it personally. The rejection of your advice is not a personal rejection of you as a a person; it’s just a choice to move in a different direction. It isnt’ easy, but for the sake of your sanity you need to learn to let go.

    Reply
    1. CanCan

      +100

      That’s what I wanted to say, but searched for the word “giant” before writing.

      Your boss may be annoying, but he’s your boss. It’s his decision. You may feel that it is a partnership, but it isn’t. Unless he’s asking you to do something illegal, unethical, or something that will otherwise jeopardize your career, – don’t fight about it. State your opinion, state the reasons for it, and let him make his decision.

      I don’t think a general conversation where you tell him that should follow your advice more often will help. Even with Alison’s wording, it sounds resentful. (You could remind him that you took a course on Teapot Glazing, so if he asks your advice about glazing, your advice is based on the cutting-edge info provided in that course. But not a general, “I have expertise, so…”)

      It sounds like you don’t feel valued. Perhaps you should think of moving on (and up).

      Reply
  27. Jill

    My boss was like this. And same dynamic – me female, him old enough to be my dad. However, he’d often make jokes to people about “I’m the boss but she’s the one that knows what’s going on” which was his funny way of acknowledging that he actually did need my ideas and opinions. Still annoying that he couldn’t JUST take my idea from the get-go, but the joking remarks told me I was valued.

    Now, when he stopped proactively asking me my opinion and totally shut-down or got annoyed when I’d offer an unsolicited idea, that’s when I knew the dynamic between us changed and I was no longer valued. I started looking and I’m so glad I got out. He’s a local politician and the people he does seek out for advice now are steering him towards an election defeat.

    My guess is that OP’s boss DOES need her but is just to “manly” to admit it.

    Reply

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