when you disagree with your boss

A reader writes:

I have a very aggressive boss who is confrontational. He works for the short-term.

I am “relationship oriented” and work for the short-term AND the long-term. Up until now, it’s been okay (15 years).

However, he is stressed out by the current financial crisis and is pushing me to call clients 2-3 times a day until I get outcomes. He says, “if you can’t get outcomes, I’ll need to hire someone else” (another bully tactic).

I refuse to bully my clients and potential clients. Is there a business protocol written somewhere which indicates a general rule about how often to call a client or potential client?

I don’t know if there’s a written protocol out there explaining that it’s rude to call people several times a day, although you might find one with an Internet search or on sites about your field.

But even if you don’t find something, you need to sit down with your boss and talk about this. I’ve noticed that when people disagree with their boss about projects or tactics, they often don’t just address it forthrightly and instead simply resist — through their actions — what the boss is asking them to do.

It’s fine to resist what your boss is asking you to do (up to a point, which I’ll get to in a minute), but that resistance must be in the form of an explicit conversation. It can’t be in the form of just not doing what he asks and not talking about it. (And I’m not saying you sound like someone who would do that; you don’t. I’m hijacking your letter to go on a tangent about a point I’ve wanted to make for a while.)

When you feel strongly that you don’t want to do what your boss is asking, you should sit down with him and openly discuss your differing opinions. You want to do this in a polite and collaborative manner, of course; I’m not advising being a jerk about it. Ultimately, though, your boss makes the call. If his final decision is one you still disagree with, you can say things like, “I really feel strongly about this. Would you be willing to allow me to try it my way and we can see how it goes?” But if he refuses, you can’t just ignore that and do it your way. This is the nature of having a boss. (You also can’t keep the debate going forever; more than two separate conversations is usually overkill, depending on the specifics.)

Of course, if you disagree with his call strongly enough, you can always exercise your independence by leaving — but just ignoring him isn’t an appropriate option.

The whole point is to be open and candid. Figure out your differences, see if they can be resolved, and if they can’t, decide if you can live with that.

Now, in your specific case, what your boss is asking you to do is ridiculous. So I think your instinct to find expert materials that back you up is a good one, and you can use them as part of your conversation. The fact that you’ve worked together reasonably harmoniously for 15 years also bodes well. However, his threats about replacing you aren’t a sustainable way of interacting, so the two of you are going to need to reach some sort of understanding — no matter what it is — soon. If he holds firm in the face of you explaining that what he’s requesting is counterproductive and that you don’t want to harm your employer, relationships, and reputation, then you’re back to the formula above: figure out if you’re willing to live with it or not. Ultimately that’s a lot more satisfying than a constant struggle.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberley*

    We’re being pressured to contact our clients/prospects more often too – but not several times a day! That is overkill and will most likely have the opposite effect that your boss wants.

    For me I have devised a contact strategy using a combination of phone calls, postcards, and e-mails.

  2. The Engineer*

    Economic pressures do weird things to people. I know of a local business where the owner fired his top sales staff because they were making “too much.” The owner paid on commission so the sales staff only “makes” what they sell. Dumb and short sighted, but it was/is the reality.

  3. A Girl Named Me*

    It sounds like the boss is feeling out of control and one way of regaining some of that control is to control (or bully) others.

    Perhaps there is another way that the writer can give some control to this boss. I suggest that the employee try to find a way to do this that also plays into a compromise. Maybe certain accounts will be called more than once a day, but other accounts don’t fall into the same category?

    Or…giving the boss some control in other areas could help with overall attitude. Ask for opinions and input on things that don’t matter as much to you as this topic.

    The boss wants to feel involved and in control. Give him that feeling in other ways and he’ll be more likely to be flexible on things that you’re passionate about.

    I agree, though, that there needs to be a conversation and resolution on this topic. Just offering ideas for prevention going forward.


  4. Anonymous*

    Something that may help the original poster:

    My colleagues and I are often on the receiving end of those calls, and I can tell you that we get angry (and tell each other) when a salesperson won’t stop calling even after we’ve told them it’s not in our budget right now and we can’t even really consider their product for at least one year. We then decide that even when we can purchase a new product, we won’t be going with the company who has the pushy salesperson.

    I know that you probably know this, but maybe telling your boss this is the customer’s perspective could help.

  5. Anonymous*

    I completely agree with anonymous on this one. I get dozens of phone calls/emails weekly from outside recruiters looking to do contract work. I explain to them that we’re not currently using agencies, but that I’ll hold onto their information in case something pops up. And I do hold onto their information.

    If they contact me again within a short-ish amount of time, I remove them from the list and tell them that they are not to contact me again.

    Pushiness absolutely will work against you. Especially in “this economy” where people are scrambling to close sales. I get to choose who I want to work with.

  6. HR Godess*

    Excellent advise as always AAM! You should bring your concerns up to your manager but if the manager decides to go in a different direction, you have to follow directions. Even if you decide to leave the company, follow directions until you are out the door. Nothing makes managers more angry than insubordinate workers!

  7. Anonymous*

    Just a word of warning to the letter writer – document what you were told, when you were told to do it. Especially when it comes to alienating customers (calling multiple times a day). Confirm the directions via email.

    This way, when your boss’ boss finds out customers are being driven away you don’t get the blame. If you can get documentation on how you thought this was a bad idea, even better.

    Also, if you get fired by said boss for driving away customers, you have a chance at unemployment because you were acting exactly as directed by your manager because you have proof (email yourself a copy after you send it, also email yourself anything he writes you about this).


  8. Anonymous*

    I agree with the anonymous posters here. I work with a variety of vendors – I am very open and honest with them about the number of times per year I will need their services, timelines, etc. There rearely if ever is any changes to this due to the nature of my work. As soon as the vendor starts trying to sell me other products and/or nagging me for more business, I find a new vendor all together.

  9. Riaz*

    There are a variety of reasons for disagreeing with your boss. You could disagree with your involving a change in the software that needs to be implemented for business reasons � a scenario being assumed just for the sake of an argument.

    When you disagree with your boss – you need to make a well documented business case as to why your point of view makes lot of business sense and consideration.

    Your scenario should be well supported with facts and figures to demonstrate you�re your point of view. Also you need to identify business risks and should be able to quantify estimated damages if your point of view is not implemented.

    That is the only thing you could do as mentioned above � otherwise depending on your relationship with his boss (your boss�s boss); just let him know your ideas related to the above scenario

  10. Anonymous*

    I had a boss whose solution to every problem was to go around the office and yell at everyone in sight, whether they had anything to do with the situation or not. My direct supervisor’s solution was to yell back, while others tried to placate her or cowered in a corner until her rants were over. None of these were effective.
    When she came at me one day, I just looked her square in the eye and said “I’m sorry but I don’t let other adults yell at me, unless I am having an argument with my husband. Please go calm yourself and then we can discuss this rationally.” I don’t know if it was a good sign or not, but she never came at me again.

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