how to avoid telling employees “because I said so”

A reader writes:

I manage about 20 people in a small business that is rapidly growing and expanding. We are fortunate to have many long-term employees. Our previous two managers left about a year and a half ago, and I was promoted and joined a new management team of three. We are very productive and work amazingly well together. I have always tried to be very clear to my employees that I’m always available to answer questions, listen when they have concerns or are unhappy, and support them in any way that will ensure that they are able to do their jobs well.

As we’ve been making some necessary (and hard for some, because change can be hard) changes lately, I’ve been a little stumped about how to answer certain questions from my staff. I don’t want to be the boss that says “it is what it is,” “none of your business,” or “because I said so,” but as not everyone is going to adapt to changes as well as others, I find myself in very lengthy conversations about how they are unhappy with change. I try my best to be diplomatic and take concerns seriously, but sometimes I feel like I want to say, “As your manager, this is how I’m telling you to do it and this is the way it needs to be. I do basically say this, but I feel it comes across as harsh and as if I’m not taking what they’re telling me seriously. Tips?

Well, first, the fact that you’re being thoughtful about this and don’t want to just rest on “because I said so” speaks well for how this is likely to play out – because you’re right that it’s important to take people’s input seriously and not to dismiss concerns. That said, you’re also right that sometimes decisions need to go in a different direction from what your staff want, and it’s not reasonable to spend huge amounts of time debating that or rehashing when you need people moving forward.

The basic formula you want in your situation is this:  “I hear you, and I appreciate the input. We’ve decided to do it this way because ___. Let’s try it for now and we can always visit it down the road if we need to.”

The keys here are that you’re letting them know you hear them and you’re sharing the reasons for why the decision is something different. You’re also letting them know that if it causes real problems, the subject can be reopened later on – but that for now, you need to move forward with the current plan.

Now, obviously, you do really want to hear people out and be open-minded about their input. It’s possible that you might hear something that changes your mind about how you want to proceed, and you want to be truly open to that — both because you’ll get to the best solutions that way, and because people can tell if you’re genuinely open to hearing them or not.

But if your mind isn’t changed — or if it’s not something that can be revisited right now, for whatever reason — then the formula above is what you use.

And if someone doesn’t accept that as an answer and keeps resisting, then you address that. For example: “I understand that you’re concerned because ____. However, we’ve chosen to do it this way because ____, and now I need you on board with that.” And if they still keep resisting even after that, then you address it more seriously: “I’ve heard your concerns on this, but as I’ve explained before, we’re doing this way because ___. At this point, it’s not something that we can continue revisiting and I need to know that you’re able to accept that, even though this isn’t the decision you would have made. Can you do that?”

But I think you’ll find that by being open about why the decisions are what they are, and by clearly communicating that you do value input but that at times you or someone else needs to make a different decision, people will be more likely to respect your decision and support what you’re asking of them.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Candy Floss*

    I think there is a pleasant way to communicate basically this:
    “I appreciate your input but the decision has been made to move ahead with X. At a certain point, decisions need to be made or we would discuss everything forever because it’s nearly impossible to get universal and unilateral agreement. We don’t expect or need everyone to agree 100% with every decision but once we get to the point where the decision is done, we do need them to get on board with it, and we need to end the discussion and move on to other things”.

  2. C Average*

    At Intel (and I don’t work there, but I’m married to someone who does), they have an explicit “disagree and commit” policy. It’s part of their whole corporate culture, and once I learned about it I made it part of my own approach to work.

    If there’s a decision that’s made that I don’t agree with, I’ll express any misgivings I have to the decision-maker, assuming there’s an appropriate way to provide that feedback. Once I’ve done that, though, I’m on board, and if it doesn’t work, there are no “I told you so” comments from me.

    Can you have a conversation with your staff about the importance of a respectful disagree-and-commit approach that allows for feedback at all levels of the chain of command but also acknowledges that there is a final decision maker who may have more information than those providing feedback?

    1. summercamper*

      “Disagree and commit” is such a wonderful way to word this!

      My dad often tells the story of a mentor, Al, who served on the Board of Trustees at his church. The Board was considering taking on debt to finance a costly construction project, and Al thought it was a horrible idea. He vigorously (but kindly) voiced his reasons for disagreement, both in board meetings and when the congregation voted on the matter, but he was outvoted.

      The next morning, Al was the first one at the construction site, plans in hand, staking out the area where the excavation would begin. Al was a well-respected member of the church, and he probably could have used his disagreement with the vote to split the church. Instead, he wholeheartedly committed to the construction work, even volunteering his carpentry skills to work on the project.

      Al’s decision to “disagree and commit” was a defining moment in the life of the church, really setting the tone for the future. Perhaps there are a few key people in your organization who you could talk with about this philosophy. Having an opinion leader adopt this approach and talk about it to their colleagues might really help change the tone of these conversations.

    2. Jamie*

      That is excellent wording. This is my approach as well but I love that it has a name.

      1. AMG*

        I’ve always heard it as ‘Argue on the way in and salute on the way out’. I may not like it, but I am here to serve the needs of the company and right now they need someone to execute to this plan.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, I just keep repeating to myself that I am here to help, obey, and serve, NOT to have opinions or make decisions or argue. And if I want to do the latter three, I have to join management.

          1. De Minimis*

            I had the experience of sitting in on an upper level meeting at my agency’s regional headquarters last year [was taking notes for my boss who could not attend], and it was really interesting to get a behind the scenes look at things. A lot of the time at bigger organizations management is stuck having to implement policies and changes that they themselves don’t always support. It was announced that there was going to be a major change in some of our HR and other platforms…the head of our region said that even though many of the leaders in attendance were probably skeptical of the changes for good reason, that they really needed to try to sell their staff on the new systems because if not they would be more likely to fail and make things even more difficult from an operational perspective…that it was okay to express doubts in private, among other leadership but to be sure to be enthusiastic when bringing news of the changes to staff.
            I haven’t been here too long and have already seen a similar project scrapped, so apparently it’s something that can happen.

    3. Scott M*

      I think this is a good idea, except refraining from “I told you so” statements.

      While you shouldn’t be snarky about it, I think it is entirely appropriate to point out the consequences of decisions. Otherwise, the same bad decision could be made again.

      1. Emma the Strange*

        My main concern is that, however politely you phrase it, if your bosses already realize that it was a bad decision, they probably won’t appreciate you implying that they can’t learn from their mistakes. And if they don’t think it was bad decision, they still probably won’t appreciate you bringing it up unprompted.

        Personally I would hold off unless and until your bosses actually give some clear indication that they will make the same mistake again. For example, if they say something like “Decision X went wrong because of [freak accident that won’t happen next time]/[minor thing that is easily fixed],” you could politely explain why you disagree. Or if and when they announce that they’re doing X again, you could say something like “last time we did X, Y happened. What are we doing to ensure that Y doesn’t happen this time?”

        My two cents.

        1. Scott M*

          I see your point, but bosses can’t learn from mistakes if they don’t know it was a mistake.

          Too often I see big decisions made, that cause dozens of problems further down the chain of management. Good employees then have to perform a lot of extra work to mitigate these issues. Meanwhile upper management thinks everything is working smoothly, because they don’t see the problems at their level (because of all the extra work the lower level employees are doing to fix continuing issues).

          It seem reasonable to point this out, politely, otherwise the ‘mistake’ will go unnoticed.

    4. Cheryl*

      I like this idea.

      Similarly, I once had a administrator who introduced large, departmental change, by asking us to “Suspend our Disbelief” and “Buy into the Vision.” A little cheesy, but definitely stopped any large scale revolt and helped us frame questions proactively.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    As a first line supervisor, it’s really hard to be in the position to explain bad policies from on high to employees when I know they’re bad and they know they’re bad. What I try to do in those situations is be as honest as I can about what’s in my control and what’s not. A lot of people really just want to be listened to.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Yes. I figure that people want two things: whatever substantive thing they want, and the feeling that they are valued and heard. If you can’t give them the first thing, it helps to give them the second.

    2. LBK*

      And I think in those situations, the key can also to emphasize that it’s the way it has to be done, regardless. “This is the expectation that’s been set and we need to meet it, even though you and I both know that it might seem silly/illogical.” Be careful what employees you use this with, but for those that can appreciate a frank conversation it works wonders.

    3. Matteus*

      As a fellow Fed, you’re telling me there are bad policy decision passed down from on high? Surely, you’re joking? :)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        No! I mean, I ummm….I’ve…heard stories of such things! From a friend!

    4. Jennifer*

      It’s also nice if/when a manager can acknowledge (privately) that such-and-such isn’t good, but there’s nothing they can do about it because it came from on high.

        1. anon-2*

          Only if it’s credible. If a manager tries to kick the blame upstairs when it’s obviously his own decision – that’s not good at all.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah, I have to be REALLY careful to strike that balance though. It’s a fine line between undermining my own management and being an effective manager of the organization. Generally though I think if something is really bad, I would lose the credibility of my employees if I was all “rah rah! this is a great opportunity.” Instead I can say “senior leadership has decided this is the best course of action and we will implement accordingly.”

      2. MaryMary*

        At OldJob, people used to talk about wearing their “manager hat.” It was short hand for “I am supporting this policy because I am a manager of this organization, not necessarily because I agree with it”. It was helpful both as a manager when rolling out something unpopular, and as an employee, to understand when my manager had to keep to the company line.

      3. Pip*

        Eh, I don’t know. But that might be because I’ve seen the worst case scenario play out: a team leader who, in the weekly meetings with the other team leaders + management was all sunshine and rainbows, nothing was a problem, anything anyone else asked, his team could do it. Meanwhile, morale in his team was at rock bottom. Which was a complete mystery until we discovered that the two-faced milksop would tell his team that “those bastards in management has forced us to do this-and-that, it’s so unfair!” every time. (As an aside, the other team leaders had no problem with pushing back if their team had an unreasonable work load, and we’d find another solution or rearrange priorities then, no fuzz. So his behaviour was really baffling.)

        And thus, every time managers tell me “this is crap, but we have to do it ’cause the higher-ups say so”, I wonder if it’s the same story again.

  4. A Teacher*

    I might come across as someone that questions stuff to, for me its just trying to make sure I’m on board with the process and not so much, I don’t want to do it or “why” in the bad sense of the word but making my mind match with my actions so to speak. Being open and listening, even if you don’t change your policy is the best approach. One of our assistant principals is this way and he’s my favorite to work because of that. Another just justifies or is the devil’s advocate for every decision and its annoying. The third thinks everything should just be positive and it will all work out.

    1. Bea W*

      I do this. I ask questions to understand better the logic behind the decision and how to implement or comply with it. I do sometimes have to clarify that because some people assume question asking is equal to disagreement and push back, and that’s not always the case.

  5. NavyLT*

    There are a couple of options here. One is, “We’re doing ABC for reasons XYZ. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll revisit it later, but we’re going to try it for now.” Another is, “We need to achieve result X. What do you think would be effective ways to do that?” I like that one, because it offers the illusion of choice (illusion because there are going to be changes). People are generally more motivated to work on a problem than to just up and change the way they’re used to doing things, and it gives them some say in the changes that are inevitably going to take place.

    1. LBK*

      I think the illusion of choice can be very dangerous because then you end up with employees that feel like you never listen to them and you just lie about valuing their input. You either need airtight explanations for why their ideas aren’t implemented or you need to actually make changes based on their input if you want that to work long-term without pissing them off.

      1. NavyLT*

        I never said their ideas aren’t implemented. They don’t get a choice about the fact that there are going to be changes, but like I said, they get some say in those changes.

      2. Jamie*

        Yeah, choice is great if there is a real choice to be made and their input will be considered. Otherwise? It’s both patronizing and a strategic nightmare because now you have to act as if you didn’t go with their ideas after vetting them rather than just owning the decisions and the factors that went into them.

        Like calling kids in from the yard asking if they want to eat dinner. If “no” is a valid option, ask away. If you need them to come in and eat dinner now asking may sound more pleasant but it’s actually kind of mean. Same thing with this.

        Not to mention how furious I would be if I went to the time and trouble to work up an idea I felt was viable and allowed to present it all the while tptb knew damn well the decision had been made and this was pointless? I would not be happy.

        1. CEMgr*

          Agree totally. Illusion of choice would become its own, new problem over and above the original one.

        2. Monodon monoceros*

          Yes, I don’t like the illusion of choice at all. This is especially troublesome if you are in an organisation that may already have some trust issues between employees and management. This is what happened at my last job- management had already pulled some pretty nasty maneuvers, and then when they decided morale was low, they started with the illusion of choice type of actions. It worked on some people, but most of us were smart enough to figure out pretty quickly that they never actually took our opinions into consideration. I think that actually had more of a morale killing effect than the previous crap they had pulled.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yeah, that’s certainly true: it’s like, why bother? I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut to certain people because they don’t actually mean it and it’s a token thing.

            1. Bea W*

              This is how I handled my mother as an adult. She would act like she was giving you input but her mind was already set on something and it was up to the other person to guess the correct answer. The most effective strategy there was to not choose or have an opinion and to look open to anything she suggested.
              Mom: Where do you want to go for dinner?
              Me: Anywhere really. What do you feel like having?
              Mom: I really want Chinese. Lets go to Cathay Pacific. Is that okay?
              Me: That sounds good to me!

              It didn’t matter if I was craving something totally different. I knew the conversation was a polite farce, and no matter what I said, we’d end up wherever Mom wanted to go. So why fight it and make it unpleasant for everyone? It wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on.

        3. NavyLT*

          OK, I think “illusion of choice” might not have been the best way to put it, but I’m not saying I waste their time (or mine) soliciting ideas I’m never going to use. It’s not a question of “Do you want to come in for dinner?” It’s more a question of, “Come in and wash your hands; it’s time for dinner. Do you want peas or broccoli?” They’re still coming in for dinner, and they’re still eating a vegetable, and they don’t get a choice in that. They will get their choice of peas or broccoli; I’m not going to offer that and then give everyone mushrooms.

          1. Jamie*

            That’s fair, I totally agree with soliciting input and feedback whenever it makes sense. Not just for morale, but because it’s genuinely the best way oftentimes to get valuable input from people with different pov.

            Yeah, it was the wording to which I was responding.

            1. Bea W*

              The example there is an actual choice though – peas or brocolli. There’s no illusion. If you choose broccoli that’s exactly what you’ll get. That’s different than asking someone if they want peas or broccoli when you’ve already decided to serve only peas.

        4. Bea W*

          This was infuriating and frustrating for me as a teenager, being given the illusion of choice and input and finding that I had none, especially if it was something I put a lot of thought into and approached with a willingness to come to a mutually beneficial decision, trying to consider other people’s needs and ideas. The adults/authority figures would lecture me about compromise and negotiating, but when time came it was their way or the highway, and it was super confusing! As a child you have no choice but to suffer through it. As an adult, a pattern of this sort of thing will have me running for the nearest exit. I’d rather have no input and know that up front than wasting time and energy giving input on decisions that are already final.

  6. Sascha*

    What if you are not able to give the reason to your staff? Like if the reason is confidential? Would you just say, “We’re doing doing ABC for a reason I can’t discuss?” How would managers handle that?

    1. Maddy*

      In this same vein, what if the reasons aren’t exactly confidential, but are really none of their business? For instance, another department is out of favor with the President so we have to pick up a project. That’s not something that lower-level folks need to know, they just need to pick up the project and run with it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’d still say something like, “I hear your concerns about X and Y, but we’ve still decided to do Z. Let’s give it some time to see how it works and if it’s causing real problems, let’s discuss that then.”

  7. MaryMary*

    Any suggestions on managing someone who thinks they should have input on management type decisions when it’s not appropriate for someone in that role? I have someone who complains that she is not consulted regarding decisions we make for the department, but she’s in an independent contributor role, not a managerial role. Most recently, this came up when we decided to change cubicle assignments for a small number of people in the department, including her. Managers were consulted (and some of their feedback taken into account), individuals were not, but she thinks she should have been. She has a unique function in our department so I think she thinks she should be considered management, but she is not a manager. I don’t know how to have the conversation without it coming off “you’re not as special as you think you are.”

    1. Lora*

      Well, I wish people would ask my opinion when they are moving my work area too, even though I am a manager, so. :P

      But realistically, that sort of decision is often made by Facilities folks and they don’t give a darn what I or anybody else thinks about it. There’s loads of company decisions that directly affect me, and I sure wish I had a say in them, but I don’t, because in the company’s estimation I should stick to what I’m good at, which does not involve, for example, financial management, advertising, social media, or even my regional administration budget. I still have to deal with the poorly-defined line between consumables and fixed equipment, the lame business cards, the Twitter link in my email signature and making my own travel arrangements though. Welcome to work.

      Usually I’m in a nicer mood and I say something like, “yeah, it would be nice if they consulted everyone who is affected, but they probably figured it was more important that you focus on your Very Important Project.” In other words, “the managers are handling all the lame administrative type boring things so you can focus on what you do best. Isn’t that nice of them?”

    2. Anonsie*

      I think it’s pretty reasonable to want to know about or give input to the conversation about moving your desk.

      Past that, I feel like there’s some conflation of wanting to make the executive decision because you’re important and wanting to give input because it affects you. The people on the ground will typically have insight that’s necessary to make a plan that works, so saying they shouldn’t be a part of it because it’s not their place isn’t going to be conducive to making a good plan.

    3. Mike C.*

      Seating location can have a huge effect on the employee, why wouldn’t you talk to them about it?

      1. Lora*

        Because sometimes there is not a darn thing to be done about it. “We are having this merger and we need to cram 200 more people into this building. Our budget for new desks is $x. We will try to keep groups together as much as we can, but because Group A is going to have a lot more interaction with Group B as a result of aforementioned merger, we’ve decided that the 3rd floor people will now sit on the 2nd floor so the two groups will have better access to each other.”

        I personally try to give people as much control as possible over that stuff–“here is a chart of the new desk layout, if you have a specific preference please mark it on the chart by the end of the week” sort of thing. But sometimes you just can’t. If my chief geek needs three 480V electrical drops for his experimental reactor, he may well be confined to only one corner of the lab even if that isn’t his favorite place ever.

        1. Cat*

          In that case, I feel like the answer isn’t “you’re not that special,” it’s “we would have consulted you but we didn’t have a choice.”

    4. MaryMary*

      This is interesting, because I think of desk location as one of those corporate whim sort of things, like what color the post-it notes in the supply room are or what kind of soup is served in the cafeteria. It’s nice when it works out on my favor (mmm, chicken tortilla soup) and I’m a little put out when it doesn’t (neon post-its are the worst), but I don’t expect anyone to include me in the decision making process. Today I sit at this desk, who knows where TBTP will decide I should sit in the future. OldJob used to move us around every 6-12 months, other than the occasional “would you rather sit next to the loud typer or the guy who talks to himself?” no one ever consulted me about a move.

      I expect people to be upset at a location downgrade (office to cube, window cube to dark sad cube, single cube to shared cube), but I see it as less of a big deal to move to a similar sized cube 50 feet away. Even with a downgrade, protesting that you prefer sunshine to the shadows isn’t going to carry much weight if it’s been decided all the teapot designers should sit together, and you’re the only one who isn’t on the floor now. It’s basically the illusion of choice issue people were talking about earlier. She wasn’t consulted because she isn’t the decision maker on whether or not she moves, and there was only one cube available to put her in. I totally understand why people want to have input, but in this case the individual’s opinion would not have impacted the business decision. Unfortunately, business is not a democracy. We’re not making decisions based on popular vote.

      1. Cat*

        I think it depends on the organization and its practices. Where I am, offices are always picked in a certain order and there would be rioting if someone tried to shuffle people around without asking.

      2. Bea W*

        This is how my comoany works. They don’t give a flying fart if you’re a manager who really needs to have a team sit together to work most efficiently and you make an airtight business case for it. Whatever they assign to you, is what you get. End of story. You’re lucky if they don’t try to move you into a space that is already assigned to someone else and occupied or if you actually get the 2 weeks notice they claim everyone will get for a move instead of 1 day. That’s how much they suck at planning.

        When we had the merger, the new company’s employees were informed of moves weeks in advance of when old company’s employees heard anything, including old company senior managers. That was totally awkward when NewOwner’s employees would come to check out their new space totally unaware of the lack of communication to the people they were displacing.

  8. Jamie*

    My approach with this kind of thing is to make everyone who is affected is told of the changes with an explanation of why we’re going this way, as broad or as narrow as warranted for the audience.

    They know I am always open to hearing issues about the change, so I can be alert to procedural or system problems, or where we need more training, etc. That is on going – I need to know what I can do to help facilitate a smooth transition.

    For those who are just complaining about change for the sake of it, when I know it’s not a lack of information or a practical issue – if it’s a big change they get 1-2 short vents with me where I listen and nicely reinforce that this isn’t negotiable so what can I do to help make this easier for you. I don’t humor the whining after that, I will just ignore the personal angst and ask if there is a technical issue.

    I have seen people in a state over serious issues as well as minor. You’d have thought the upgrade from Office 2003 to 2007 was a coordinated effort between me and the devil himself to cause confusion and chaos amongst the innocent.


    1. Explain the changes with the appropriate degree of detail
    2. make sure they have the proper training, knowledge, whatever to adapt to the changes successfully.
    3. be understanding but firm with resisters, enforcing what you need to enforce and not enabling them in wallowing in pity.

    1. Ethyl*

      In regards to the venting, if the LW is getting bogged down in lots of lengthy wheel-spinny conversations, a nice way to shut that down is the three-sentence rule: “Hey, this seems to be going kind of in circles here, can you summarize your position on the new teapot database in 3 sentences?”

      Managers aren’t there to be endlessly listening to employee venting. There is, as Drew Carey once said, a support group for people who are frustrated with their jobs: it’s called “everybody” and they meet at the bar.

  9. Monodon monoceros*

    What about being on the flip-side of this? I like the “disagree and commit” wording mentioned above, and usually try to follow that, even though I didn’t have a name for it before. In the past, however, I had a boss who always wanted me to agree with her. One particular instance I really disagreed with her, explained my reasons, but told her I would follow what she wanted to do. It got kind of heated when she kept on and on, and I refused to tell her I agreed with her. I just kept saying “You are my boss, and even if I disagree with your decision, I am going to do what you want me to do.” I still wonder if I should have just lied and told her I finally agreed with her. Should I have just rolled over to keep the peace? (Side note, it was a tense time after she found out I interviewed for another job)

    1. some1*

      I reported to a boss like this as well. She was the office manager promoted from another department. Part of her job was coordinating employee moves to different offices and when an employee asked to keep their extension on their new phone or move their chair, she would claim it couldn’t be done, even though the previous office manager did it all the time.

    2. Maddy*

      Yeah, as a boss, I would be really irritated if one of my staff talked to me like that. The phrasing “You are my boss, and even if I disagree with your decision, I am going to do what you want me to do.” is pretty adversarial. Her pushing you to agree with her sounds weird, but I could see how she might have just wanted you to drop the attitude and support the decision that had been made without a caveat.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        I can see that point, yet I still don’t necessarily feel like saying I disagree in and of itself means that I had “attitude” about it. I mean, it was just a matter of fact, I don’t agree type of thing. I feel like it should have been enough to say that I would do what she wanted, I shouldn’t have had to agree.

        But, if ever faced with this situation again, I guess I’ll just lie. As Jennifer said below, I had already lost the battle so….

      2. Mike C.*

        It’s not adversarial in the slightest. In fact, I can think of several situations where simply agreeing with what management wanted because that’s what management wanted would be highly unethical or even illegal.

        After all, should a lawyer, doctor or engineer agree to cut corners despite legal, safety or physical consequences born out from their experience just because it’s “too adversarial to do otherwise”?

        Christ, I’d rather be “too adversarial” than have permits pulled, contracts cancelled, or people hurt. There are more important things in life than being liked.

        1. Maddy*

          I’m not at all saying you shouldn’t voice disagreement when it’s warranted. As Alison states, that’s important, and it’s also important that a boss recognize when their employees disagree with them and consider those issues seriously.

          However, once a decision is made, it’s really not worth fighting (I’m going to assume this isn’t something illegal, unethical, etc since those are outliers for the purpose of this conversation). An employee’s tone is important, and constantly qualifying your responses by saying you don’t agree with them is a way of passive-aggressively challenging your boss. Trust me, that’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to be good for you in the long term, it looks immature and unprofessional (especially if the decision was something that wasn’t the end all be all for the organization).

          1. Lora*

            something that wasn’t the end all be all for the organization
            This part is key. What is often presented as “not the end all be all for the organization” can often be pretty darn important.

            Things I have personally seen which were presented to me as “not that big a deal, just go along, the decision is made”:
            -Drug ingredients contaminated with god-knows-what being imported from (Guess Which Country!) and re-labeled as United States Pharmacopeia grade materials
            -Diagnostic chemicals contaminated with bacteria that screwed up the test results
            -Explosive hazardous waste (percussion explosive–if you bump it, BOOM) dumped in the sub-basement of a warehouse because it was “too expensive” to dispose of properly
            -Faked test results being used to clear the name of a manufacturer under Congressional investigation for faulty materials
            -Diagnostics for an epidemiology study that couldn’t be validated, published regardless and then used to make public health decisions
            -Being given documentation instructions specifically contradicting federal requirements “because QA had a question, and I don’t feel like answering questions”
            -Falsifying results on investor reports because the next round of fundraising closes in three weeks
            -Outright bulls****ing federal inspectors

            ALL of these things, management told me were not a big deal and not critical to the company and something I just needed to accept and roll with. Funny thing is, now I’m consulting for many of the same companies on how to get their rear ends out of the fire because it turned out to be quite a big deal after all.

            Once in a while, sure, it’s not the end all be all of the organization. You don’t like having to put the company logo in pink on your signature file? Fine, I am the first person to say it’s silly, but just do it and move on with your life. That said, although I do reply often with, “yeah, I know, your objection is duly noted,” I never think of the person raising the objection as immature and unprofessional. I think of them as someone who gives a rat’s behind about their job and the company and wants to see it do well.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              holy crap. The things on this list here cost how many people’s lives? wow.

            2. Gene*

              “-Explosive hazardous waste (percussion explosive–if you bump it, BOOM) dumped in the sub-basement of a warehouse because it was “too expensive” to dispose of properly”

              Really old Ethyl Ether? Contaminated peroxide? Something on Derek Lowe’s list of “Things I Won’t Work With”?

              Enquiring minds and all that rot.

              1. Lora*

                Dried out picric acid. 55 gallon DRUMS of it, that had been stored with the bungs off and funnels left in the top for years.

              1. Lora*

                They all got busted, big time. Several people fired. Only guy who really got away with it was the epidemiologist, but in the sense of “he hung on to his job,” not in the sense of “people still respect him like he’s a real scientist”.
                1, 2, 6 & 8 – FDA busted, fines and warning letters issued, companies made to pay big bucks to clean up
                3 & 4 – Companies went out of business
                7 – CEO fired with extreme prejudice

        2. NavyLT*

          Well, if it’s unethical or illegal, I’d hope you don’t say, “You’re the boss, so I’ll do what you want me to do.” I think the correct response in that scenario is, “No, that’s illegal/unethical/unsafe. I’m not going to do it.” That’s different from a scenario where legal, ethical, or safety concerns don’t really apply. A better response there would probably be along the lines of “OK, I’ll get it done.”

          All that said, a boss who insists on hearing the words, “Yes, you’re right, I agree” sounds pretty insecure.

            1. NavyLT*

              Yeah, I think insecurity like that often leads to the kind of power struggle you’re describing (which ultimately ends up undermining the boss, thus generating more insecurity). It’s important to be able to accept disagreement and move on.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m thinking more in terms of “You have my report and you know that you’re acting against my professional opinion/there remain other issues to be resolved” and so on.

            The ethics issues come into play when you won’t even bring those issues up (aka, be “adversarial”) or just sweep them under the rug when you find out your boss is unhappy.

      3. Esra*

        I… don’t agree with this at all. Adversarial would be disagreement and refusal to go along with the decision. This is a polite and professional way of registering your disagreement and still doing your job. I mean, the last thing you want as a manager is to be surrounded by yes people.

      4. GrandMous*

        I agree with Maddy here and disagree with Mike C.

        MoMo seems to have handled the disagree part of ‘disagree and commit’ very well. Factual, low key, not confrontational, just right.

        It’s the commit part that seems a little off to me. To commit is to actively support and encourage. It’s to act as though the decision is the right one, and do your best to make it succeed. To say that you will “do what you want me to do” is just too passive and even seems to signal a little nuance of disrespect.

        How about: “If I were in you shoes, I might do X instead of Y. However, let’s talk about how I can help make Y a success.”

      5. Sean*

        I don’t really agree. If a staff member assured me that they’d do what I wanted, I’d take that at face value and not necessarily see it as adversarial. They aren’t going to agree with every decision management makes, and that’s OK with me.

        1. NavyLT*

          I think the issue is that some people see subtexts and implications to the statement “You’re the boss, so I’ll do what you want.” It’s pretty much impossible to determine here whether it was adversarial, passive-aggressive, or a simple statement of fact, because all we have to go on is text, so without tone we get to project our own assumptions on it.

    3. Jennifer*

      Yes, you should have rolled over/lied to keep the peace at that point. It’s not worth it to fight that battle when you’ve already lost, is it?

  10. EG*

    Read the book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Heath and Heath. I just finished this for one of my master’s classes, and it changed a lot of my perception on motivating employees to accept change. There’s more to it than just ordering the change, if employees don’t see a benefit from the change. Maybe they’re not involved in the feedback customers provide that explains issues requiring the change. A little explanation, communication, and feedback from employees goes a long way.

    1. KAS*

      This is a seriously great book. I used it as source material for a class I taught on driving change with IT when you are a non-techie.

  11. Interviewer*

    Just finished reading an article about collaboration, where I learned managers can use common language to describe the intensity of their commitment to a particular task. Perhaps you could adopt this, to put an end to the cycle of discussions where people just want to be heard, but there’s no chance of changing:

    “Notions” – invites discusion, low investment, testing the idea to see if it makes sense, hoping others will build on it, totally open to influence. Action is optional.

    “Stakes” – start a discussion, some investment but movement is possible, willing to be influenced. Action taken after parties agree.

    “Boulders” – discussion happens for understanding, strongly invested, movement requires significant info, difficult to influence. Action is expected.

    “Tombstones” – discussion takes place under duress, totally invested, no ability to influence. Act now, or else.

    Total credit given to Frederick Miller & Judith Katz. Keep in mind that if you have too many boulders or tombstones, you will have a very discouraged team, and if you have too many notions or stakes, you will have a very distracted team.

    I love this concept and hope I can get my director on board with using this language very soon. Hope this helps you, OP.

  12. Artemesia*

    While it is important to acknowledge concerns, it is also important to go easy on ‘maybe this can be revisited’ and harder on the ‘this is what we need to be doing going forward.’

    I remember a state office in my previous locale where they moved from an old data entry records management system that was done on terminals to a desk top network system and the old hands didn’t want have to learn the new data format for the system. They were told that this was the system and so a couple of them went to IT and got them to essentially develop software to put onto the computers that emulated the old terminals. It mucked up the change process for a goodly while since the insubordination was not dealt with.

    I have often been in situations where stupid decisions were made by management; there is a moment to make clear your position and then a moment to shut up and get with the program. And try to keep the I told you sos to yourself (or perhaps the others who were trying to stop the silly idea when it was introduced.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have used “This is what our company needs us to do…” and found that seems to help.
      And I have also pointed out that we all work under the same rules. It is not like one person is singled out by themselves all the time and everyone else gets a free ride.

      There have been times where a new rule or policy has caused loud laughter, because it is sooo far off the mark. I have a tough time keeping a straight face. So I would give a little nod, like “yeah, I get it” and continue on in a matter of fact way that indicates we will be doing this anyway in spite of how silly it is.

      In the bigger picture, I really do not have much problem with people venting or disagreeing to my face. I’d rather have them come talk to me than discuss it behind my back and reach totally wrong conclusions, or worse, run their own unauthorized ideas.
      I have no problem double-checking, either “Okay, Jane but you’re going to do B from here forward and no more A, right?” They agree. It never seems to be a big problem.

      Whiners are a different story entirely.

  13. Leah*

    Are any of these changes things that can be run past your employees before they’re made? I worked in a job where I came in one day and found out everyone’s job had been changed. Mine was changed pretty materially from what I’d been hired for 2 months prior. Every morning something my boss hadn’t considered or decided she didn’t like had to be changed. Nothing was in writing and half the time we found out about changed from the boss screaming at people to do things differently. Considering they had proprietary software built for this change, it had been in the works for a while but the boss never asked anyone about how we thought things might be well-handled or possible pitfalls. Once the system was implemented, anyone pointing out a potential problem would get screamed at for complaining. So we just had to wait for problems to hit us like a truck and then get yelled at.

    Clearly, this office had a lot of other issues but the changes would have been a lot better-received if we’d been given a heads up and an opportunity to give an input on how to best reach the goals of the new program. There’s also a lot of difference between getting input on goals or changes in direction and how those changes get implemented in regards to individuals’ jobs.

  14. soitgoes*

    I think you need to make it clear that you’re aware of how the changes will affect certain employees’ productivity. I’ve been the “victim” of changes that I knew were a bad idea and that made me look like I wasn’t good at my job anymore, while I’d been perfectly fine under the old rules/procedures. If you think people might be reacting against the new rules because they think their jobs are being put at risk, you need to say something like, “I understand, and I promise you that you won’t be held accountable for how these things play out as long as you play along for now.”

  15. Not So NewReader*

    My pet peeve. A new change comes in and I am told to “own it”. Okay, sure I work on it and do my best. No-no-no. That is not enough. I have to pretend it’s my idea. I was not allowed to say it came from the higher ups.
    Lots of problems with that. The people that might/might not listen to me chose not to do Change X. The people that worked closest with me knew for a fact that I would not think anything like Change X was a good idea. I could not say anything, they had figured it out themselves.
    The next thing was a little mind-bending. “I don’t know where NSNR got this idea for Change X, I am going to have to write her up for insubordination.”

    And this is why doors are clearly marked “exit” so people can see how to escape.

  16. C Average*

    An additional thought on this: I think sometimes a simple “because that’s the way we’re doing it now” is the best policy when changes are being communicated to someone who is client or customer-facing or who interacts with other groups within the company. I’ve seen again and again and again that if someone is entrusted with a real reason–particularly a complex or interesting real reason–they have a really hard time being discreet with that information. Which I kind of understand–if they, too, are getting “why are you doing this” questions and actually know the answer, it’s really tempting to share that information.

    Once that kind of information starts to spread, it’s really hard to control any unwanted spin. So what starts with Big Boss communicating to the middle managers that “we’ve decided to eliminate the sprinkles on the chocolate teapots because our data shows that only 21% of our consumers actually base buying decisions on the presence of sprinkles, and we can save over $2 million per year by eliminating the sprinkles, and besides, our sprinkle vendor is switching to all-organic ingredients, which will double the cost to us” morphs into “yeah, I’m sorry, I know you loved the sprinkles, and I did too, and so did a lot of our consumers, but our leadership is a bunch of cheapskates looking to cut corners despite the wishes of a sizable minority of our consumer base, and not only that but they clearly don’t care about the environment or our consumers’ health enough to pay a little extra for organic.”

    tl; dr = be careful about distancing yourself from an inevitable decision out loud, because whatever rationale you offer is likely going to be overshared down the chain, and potentially externally as well.

  17. Jennifer*

    A former boss I had used a sports metaphor when we would whine or squabble about having to implement a process we didn’t like but had no input or control over the decision–that in some situations it’s as if we are in the NFL. When it’s game time, a play is called by the quarterback and it is our job as team members to execute it to the best of our ability. You don’t get to do less than your best just because you would have run a different play. We don’t debate the play in the huddle on the field, we just execute it and play to win. I’ve used this before with work teams and it has been helpful. The funny thing is, I know very little about football, but I really like this.

    I am sort of using it myself to keep my eye on the ball with a current project I am working on. I think it is creating more problems than it is solving. I voiced my concerns in development but was overruled. Now I’m doing my best to make it work. If it doesn’t, it won’t be because I didn’t do my part and my concerns were captured at the beginning.

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