You're the Boss! Not That There's Anything Wrong With That.
September 14, 2017 11:47 PM   Subscribe

My boss is allergic to the idea that her staff would follow her instructions simply because she's the boss. Her allergy is rooted in the fact that she's a control freak. Help me avoid the ten-dimensional chess that sometimes ensues.

Our boss is great in most ways, so this isn't a "boss from hell" post. It's more of a "boss from heaven, who reminds us that heaven can also be a pain in the ass" post.

We're fortunate that our boss is kind and considerate, very smart and excellent at what she does, with the respect of her staff and her own bosses. She's also really on board with a dynamic, team-based approach to management, at least on an intellectual level.

BUT... her Achilles' heel is that she's a bit defensive. As a self-described control freak, who constantly (and mostly successfully) fights her impulse to micromanage, she's super sensitive about being perceived as a tyrant. To the point that she ends up talking past people a lot, wasting time, and even risking making us feel tense and second-guessing ourselves.

For a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference, I often feel like the guy with glasses in this movie clip (if the cowboy were nice, not obnoxious, though). We have a lot of conversations like this:

BOSS: I see you went with the red handles on the new widget order.

ME: Yep. That OK?

BOSS: Well, normally it would be, but it's spring, so they'll need to be green this time.

ME: Ah, gotcha. No problem, I'll just—

BOSS: You get what I'm saying? Green is more spring-y, is all.

ME: ...Yeah.

BOSS: You sound a little hesitant.

ME: No, green's fine.

BOSS: You can push back if you have another idea. It's fine.

ME: I mean, when I ordered I was just thinking that even in the spring, red outsells green three to one. But it's no big deal, we sell plenty of both.

BOSS: But think about people who like green.

ME: True enough, green it is.

BOSS: I'd just like to try more green this spring. Just to see what happens.

ME: (Smiling) Well, it's up to you.

BOSS: No, no, it's just that it's spring, and green's a spring color, right?

ME: Right.

BOSS: (Gets out iPhone) Here, look. Ace Hardware: green widgets, front page. Home Depot: green widgets, front page. Lowe's: green widgets, front page. See what I mean?

ME: Yeah, totally.

BOSS: You see?

ME: Yep.

BOSS: Not just because I want it that way.

ME: Right, no.

BOSS: (Stares a few seconds as though waiting for me to elaborate)

ME: I'll just... get those green widgets ordered.

BOSS: Awesome, thanks!

Talking to her about this issue directly won't work. I've tried it with less-irritating issues in the past, and it just leads to a feedback loop like the one above.

So, to focus on my own reaction to my boss (and not on changing her), what I'm looking for are practical strategies or coping mechanisms I can use in the moment to reduce the anxiety I feel, and lengths of time we spend conferring when I could be working on what I'm assigned to. I've already stopped EVER using phrases like "Whatever you want," or "It's up to you," or "You're the boss." If other tactics means sucking it up, or learning to ignore what's bugging me, so be it—but how, concretely, do I do that?

And to be sure, my boss problems could be worse, and after all, I'm being paid to put up with any pains in the ass the job presents. And I truly love what I do (and my boss, actually), but an itchy tag on a great-looking shirt still itches.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Does she maybe want you to ask her proactively what her reasoning is?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:05 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wonder if you just need to be assertive about agreeing with her and that you are ready to take action. "Yep, that's a good point. I will call the vendor and switch to green today." If she tries to explain more, just repeat, "I totally agree and see your point. I'll make sure we switch the order to green." Like maybe it's not enough to make it clear you see that her reasoning is good beyond her ordering you because she's the boss -- you need to try to move on too and mark the issue as resolved. In your example, the conversation ended when you said you'd order the new widgets, right? Until you vow to do it, she might think you have some sort of reluctance and need to understand why it makes sense to do.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:17 AM on September 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

Building on what AppleTurnover said, try, "Thank you for making that decision, I'm on it." (because you're the boss and that is YOUR JOB)
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:28 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

She's insecure. She doesn't want you to agree with her because she's the boss and you have no choice, she wants you to agree with her because you actually see her point and think she has made the right call. That's why she's constantly trying to justify her point of view. If you want her to shut up and move on the best way to do it is to say, "You know what, that's EXACTLY what I would have done. Great minds!" Try it, I bet it works.
posted by Jubey at 12:37 AM on September 15, 2017 [26 favorites]

To be honest a lot of your responses in that conversation kind of feed into the boss's feeling she needs to "convince" you that her idea is the right one, I think. For example:

ME: ...Yeah.
BOSS: You sound a little hesitant

You literally are being hesitant here.

ME: I mean, when I ordered I was just thinking that even in the spring, red outsells green three to one. But it's no big deal, we sell plenty of both.

You spend most of the conversation agreeing green is fine but also here you essentially say that the boss is wrong, confirming to her that she needs to "convince" you. If you want to just go with what she wants, do it without any explanation/justification of your original course of action*.

ME: (Smiling) Well, it's up to you.

This can read as a passive-aggressive "well OK but you're wrong" (not that you ARE being passive-aggressive, but it can sound that way).

BOSS: Not just because I want it that way.
ME: Right, no.
BOSS: (Stares a few seconds as though waiting for me to elaborate)
ME: I'll just... get those green widgets ordered.

She's not waiting for elaboration, just a confirmation that you've been "convinced" and are going to do what she asked - which you then do, and she's happy.

I agree with the above comments - just immediately say "OK sure, I'll go and change that now."
No hesitant comments, no explanation why you did something different*, no "OK well you're the boss". Just simple positive stuff.

*Unless you really do want to try and convince boss that your way is the right one, of course.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:42 AM on September 15, 2017 [23 favorites]

Yes, I would definitely say simple and positive is the way to go. "Oh, yeah, green for Spring, I'll change it ASAP". " I can definitely see where you're coming from" etc.

It sounds like you are being 'too nice' too and trying to interject some stuff as well (red outselling green) which of course makes sense but you are in a semi-nonsensical if mostly pleasant situation! (so the idea is to positively reinforce, not just agree with, the situation/decision).
posted by bquarters at 3:54 AM on September 15, 2017

Try the "yes, and..." technique from improv. When your improv partner (boss) takes things in a direction you weren't expecting, let the next words out of your mouth build on what they thought of, by beginning with "yes, and."

Boss: "It's spring, so they'll need to be green."
You: "Yes, and I'll change that on the order form right away."

Boss: "Green is a spring color."
You: "Yes, and spring will be here before we know it. Time for me to order those green widgets!"

Boss: "I'd like to try more green this year, just to see what happens."
You: "Yes, and after I change this order to green, I'll be glad to track this spring's sales by color and report back in June, if you'd like."
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:11 AM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

If spring sales tank, are you an "I told you so" person? Will contribute to her lack of confidence later by reminding her (or anyone) that you initially mentioned how red was historically a better performer, but no one listened/cared? Any degree of non-solidarity of this type can erode a manager's ability to be decisive over time.

The time for alternate suggestions is not the moment of instruction. When IS the appropriate time? It sounds like you are well able to contribute to the decision-making process... find out how to get a seat at that table, so you can avoid being the one who comes across as doing the hated "swoop-and-poop" so late in the game.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:11 AM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you actually stick up for your choice, how does she react? Your very first response could have been "Yeah, I ordered red since they always seem to sell so well." She might genuinely be looking to see your thought process, even if she eventually disagrees, if she realizes she is not all-knowing. (I often lead with "Hey, how come you did X?" if I lightly disagree with something, because I really want to know the answer. If the person has a reason that makes sense, I don't even nescessarily go through the hassle of the argument, and if they don't provide a reason I'll ask them to do it my way, and might feel kind of defensive if they start defending the choice after I put myself out there.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:22 AM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you tried:

"Hey, yeah, good idea! I never thought of that." *enthusiastic nodding and smiling*

"Hmmm, yeah, come to think of it, why not? I'll go ahead and change that then."

The idea being that if she thinks she came up with a better idea than you, she might not spend all her time trying to convince you.

But I'm not sure you're looking for answers like this, because in your example you really didn't seem enthusiastic about her idea, as pointed out above. So if you just want a proxy for "you the boss", I guess something like "sure, why not?" would work best.
posted by satoshi at 5:14 AM on September 15, 2017

The example interchange reads as though you're in a power struggle with her and don't really perceive it.
posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on September 15, 2017 [26 favorites]

I think the only way to stop having conversations like the one you've described is likely to be enthusiastically agreeing with her choices. From the example you gave it really gave me the impression you disagree with her choice but will follow it anyway because she's in charge. Which you know is fine, I know is fine but as you've identified she can't cope with it. So unless she's going to suddenly get an injection of self-confidence and assertiveness you need to avoid giving her that impression.

In the above example I'd go with "Yes, you're right, I hadn't thought about it before but green is totally a spring colour, I'll change the order right away".

You can maybe experiment with putting your own opinion forward first if you want to, so say that the red generally sells better, but you need to switch to enthusiastic agreement as soon as it's clear that she's not convinced to avoid entering the loop. Depending on how sensitive she is to contradicting ideas it may be that any contradiction whatsoever will trigger the loop in which case I think your only options are to agree to everything enthusiastically and immediately or put up with these discussions (maybe try to reframe them in your head in as part of her character that you otherwise like).
posted by *becca* at 5:50 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you want her to shut up and move on the best way to do it is to say, "You know what, that's EXACTLY what I would have done. Great minds!" Try it, I bet it works.

Yes, I think if you're more like "great point! I didn't think of that. Yes, let's do it that way," then this won't happen. Or, when necessary, what happens when you say, "hmm, should we do 50-50 maybe? Red outsells green 3-1, so even with a spring uptick in green, we might still want a few reds? But what do you think?" Could you just generally go along with her vision of flat decision-making?
posted by salvia at 5:52 AM on September 15, 2017

I'm reminded of two things.

First, there was a much-discussed notion a few years ago that women managed by consensus and men managed by top-down direction. So, gender roles aside, in this view your boss keeps rehearsing an issue until she is comfortable that consensus has been reached. If so, I don't think it matters much what you say as along as you are being constructive. She just needs the time to get comfortable.

Second, it's my wife's observation that some people think meetings are opportunities for discussion, and some think they are times to make decisions. Your boss isn't as decisive as she needs to be.

I can understand why you are annoyed, but I don't see anything toxic here. My own strategy would be to set up particular flagrant instance as an example that could be referred to: "This is getting to be like the Johnson contract when we discussed the cover of the proposal for 4 hours." But that's just me.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:14 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

From the example, it does sound like you are reluctantly agreeing, the backtracking to passive-aggressively disagree in a "no no yeah it's fine" way, and conceding only because she's the boss and not because you are validating (or even acknowledging) the merit of her ideas.

Try engaging with the content of what she's saying.
posted by kapers at 6:22 AM on September 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

Yeah, this exchange here kind of sounds like you ARE only agreeing with her because she's the boss? The responses you're giving kind of have an aura of "Ooooookay, if you say so..." which would frankly cause ANYBODY who isn't an actual tyrant to stop and be like, "Wait, what? Why are you saying it like that? Am I missing something?"

You don't have to agree with all of her decisions, and you're certainly allowed to push back, but if you decide you're going to go with her idea, it is probably better (at least outwardly) to end on a decisive, positive-ish note.


Boss: I'd like to try green handles this spring just to see what happens.
You: Red is usually our most popular color, but a spring-themed batch sounds like a fun seasonal experiment. I can go ahead and update the order today. If we're testing, do you want me to stick with the same amount, or go with a smaller batch?
Boss: Nah, let's keep it the same and just swap to green.
You: Will do! I'll keep you posted.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:37 AM on September 15, 2017 [19 favorites]

Isn't it possible that you're actually right about red being a better choice than green, that she realizes it's possible for an employee to have a better idea than hers, and that she sincerely wants you to argue for your own idea?

In that example, you say you believe red outsells green, but then you make no further attempt to argue for red. You don't respond to the substance of any of her arguments for green. It sounds like what she's looking for is, "I know it's common for stores to show a lot of green widgets at this time of year, but studies show red actually sells better. And look at these past sales figures - when we had red and green out there at the same time, we sold more red."

Or at least she wants to make sure you don't have arguments like that that you're keeping to yourself because you're afraid to disagree with the boss. I'd try to more clearly and honestly tell her what you actually think and respond to her arguments either with clear agreement or with counter arguments if you have them. And if you don't care that much and don't think it's an important enough question to merit a long discussion, why not come right out and say that?
posted by Redstart at 6:50 AM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with others that some of your responses read as passive aggressive to me. You clearly don't intend them that way, but my guess is that may be exactly what she's reacting to. Her side of the conversation sounds like she's really digging for why you think red is better because she doesn't want to dismiss your opinion on it out of hand, but you're demonstrating that you don't like her counter-suggestion of green while at the same time refusing to offer why you originally chose red.

I would try reacting by either 1) following some of the scripts above to agree with her more substantively when you don't care that much or 2) actually arguing for why you think red is a better widget color when you decide it's a hill worth dying on. I think taking one of these two paths every time will drastically cut down on the phenomenon you're observing.
posted by superfluousm at 7:04 AM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

What? The OP does explain right away why they initially chose red: because it outsells green three to one.

The OP also says they've "already stopped EVER using phrases like "Whatever you want," or "It's up to you," or "You're the boss.""

I think things go sideways in the example when your boss says you can push back if you have another idea, but when you do try to explain your different idea, she reacts in a way that shows she really doesn't want you to push back.

The only option here for you to avoid the loop is to agree quickly and enthusiastically, because from your example, she doesn't actually want to be convinced of your idea. So ignore her when she says she wants to hear pushback, and just agree wholeheartedly with her. But honestly, to me she sounds insecure and even immediate agreement will likely not stop this irritating loop.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of commenters are missing that the asker actually says they'll make the change quite quickly in the interaction:

BOSS: I see you went with the red handles on the new widget order.
ME: Yep. That OK?
BOSS: Well, normally it would be, but it's spring, so they'll need to be green this time.
ME: Ah, gotcha. No problem, I'll just—
BOSS: You get what I'm saying? Green is more spring-y, is all.

For what it's worth, my boss (who is also otherwise great like your boss) does the exact same thing, and I understand the frustration. All of the suggestions above are nice, but I imagine you have encountered the same problem that I have- no matter what response you give (complete and immediate agreement, explaining your reasoning, discussion on the merits of both, justification via sales data, validating and agreeing with her thoughts, etc.) there's a solid chance it won't be the "right" response because your boss is already feeling defensive and anxious and has made up their mind when they come to you.

I think a lot of people who haven't worked with a boss like this don't realize that the real problem is that the boss wants you to have already had the idea she is proposing, she doesn't understand why you didn't think of green handles in the first place because to her it is obvious, she is trying to both assess your thinking on green vs. red handles, and she is reassuring herself that her thinking is "correct." Some readers may wonder how I know the boss is thinking this way- my boss actually complains to me about other coworkers who don't pick the "right" ways to do things because it's so "obvious" to them. My boss dwells and dwells and dwells on this shit and then it finally boils over into discussions pretty much identical to the one you posted. And if it makes you feel better- none of us can figure out how to respond either!

TL;DR You said you boss is a self-described control-freak; mine has said that they are too. They just can't help themselves, so try not to take it personally. My method of dealing with this now is to have a little tape that plays in my head saying, "Boss's problems are not my problems." Meaning, I don't need to take on my boss's anxiety, defensiveness, insecurity, etc. in order to do my job.
posted by Mouse Army at 7:56 AM on September 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've already stopped EVER using phrases like "Whatever you want," or "It's up to you," or "You're the boss." If other tactics means sucking it up, or learning to ignore what's bugging me, so be it—but how, concretely, do I do that?

never say those things to any other boss or human ever, either! unless you hate them. just in case you're treating this as a weird idiosyncrasy on her part. They are the employee's way of saying Fuck you, or less dramatically, Bless your heart, which is another way of saying Fuck you. a boss's only two options are to say YEAH YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I'M THE BOSS, go do the thing, or to say Wait wait wait, slow down, what's the problem? what, do you think I'm going to fire you for politely disagreeing? let's talk this out.

and sure you hate option two, it's a time-waster. but option one is for dicks. so just don't box her in like that. Instead of saying those things, just say "Yes!" or if you want to be more expansive, "Absolutely! I'll get started right now, it'll be done by this afternoon."

If something is bugging you about her instructions, say "I don't think we should do this because of this reason and supporting examples." the sentence has to start and end that way, whatever you put in the middle. Don't weaken it or be coy about it or start off with "I mean" or the like, or end by undoing everything you just said ("but it's totally fine if you hate this idea, who cares, who am I to say, I just work here, of course I do have a lot of experience and I've always been right before but never mind, let's just go with your idea.") this prolongs everything and will make her think you, not her, are the problem and the reason simple things take so long.

She is trying with great patience but little insight to engage you as an equal when it comes to issues of substance and not pull rank. you can either go along with her on this, or pull rank on yourself and just do as she says without undermining it. if she makes a bad decision and sales figures fall or whatever and you technically warned her but not very hard, so she didn't listen, it's bad for her. so don't tease with little bits of negative opinion if you're not willing to really argue it out. either obey at the beginning regardless of your opinion, as is normal, or keep talking until one of you is convinced for real. don't try to split the difference and weakly object but then pretend to come around. someone this invested in employee buy-in will know you don't mean it.

and it is a very real possibility that all this while she's been thinking of you as a hard worker with good ideas whose fatal flaw is timidity and uncertainty. how can she get you to just assert yourself and argue for the opinions she can tell you hold but won't stand behind? you do NOT want to get sent to some kind of confidence building seminar because of a misunderstanding of this kind, especially if you are also a woman and she perceives herself as standing in a mentor role to you. ask me how I know.

the phrases you want are "I see your point!" or "NOW I see what you mean!" note that these are not lies. just say them convincingly, so it sounds like you agree with her even though that is not what you said.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:39 AM on September 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

While you do agree right away in the example, it's also clear that you have reservations that have to be dug out of you. I imagine the reason your boss follows up despite your initial agreement is that she remembers that that's been the case before (plus her anxieties about micromanaging, of course).

You need to be forthright, either way. It sounds like (unlike some) she will not be offended/injured by that. So let your yesses be yesses and your noes be noes, as they say. "Boss, I went with red because red outsells green by three to one" as the first communication. It may take a little while for her to learn your new style of communicating and trust it, but I think that will help.
posted by praemunire at 8:44 AM on September 15, 2017

She's trying to have a conversation with you. Any good boss knows she doesn't know everything about everything; she depends on you to give her feedback based on your institutional and role knowledge. I think the best way to handle it would be:

Boss: "... but they'll have to be green, because it's spring."

Employee: "oh, I see. Is this a normal seasonal thing?"

Boss: "Well, sort of. I think during spring we should offer the green handles for the folks who want them, you know? But I'm also floating this as a kind of experiment to see how they perform."

Employee: "I see. From what I've seen, red tends to outsell green year round-- are you worried about that? Do you think we should offer red AND green?" [or some other constructive notion]

Boss: "Hm, no, I've thought about that but just trying green will make it clearly for me whether this is something we want to do in the future."

Employee: "I see, yes, it will be easier to understand green's performance if we release it at peak time without the choice of red. OK, sounds good!"

If this type of convo is impossible with her then perhaps she is just looking for you to agree and be chipper right off the bat. I am an engineer, so if you're not your experience may vary, but I'm very used to being upfront with my feedback and engaging actively to have my mind changed. You can usually tell pretty quickly if that's what a boss is looking for. I would assume at this point that she WANTS to hash things out with you as a person with boots on the ground, she wants you to be curious about the decision making process, and she wants buy in. It's not always possible to agree completely but if you're clear and probing upfront she won't feel like you're holding back and she can feel at the end like you've understood her reasoning. Being TOO compliant puts the onus on her to pry out your objections, because she's doing due diligence.

It may also be that's she's just super defensive and this will always be hard, but sometimes asking someone what they're thinking with an open mind gives them a chance to explain the decision, get your feedback, recalibrate or not, and then move forward. Which seems like a normal feedback cycle.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:03 AM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've already stopped EVER using phrases like "Whatever you want," or "It's up to you," or "You're the boss." If other tactics means sucking it up, or learning to ignore what's bugging me, so be it—but how, concretely, do I do that?

never say those things to any other boss or human ever, either! unless you hate them.

Nah. That sort of thing's totally common and accepted at a lot of places I've worked. It's not said as a "Fuck you," it's more of a "Right on, I'm happy to do as you say," which actually makes the boss happy. I think it depends on the particular protocol and culture at a given workplace.
posted by Rykey at 9:24 AM on September 15, 2017

I'd recommend giving what the boss wants: a vigorous conversation, demonstration that you will confidently share your perspective, a discussion that feels collaborative and emotionally connected (even if it's not totally that way in reality)... and when your boss makes the call, go with it 100% as long as it's not a "hill you want to die on" thing.

Be intentional in using clear, strong, simple language -- cut down on waffling. Use declarative sentences with a beginning and end, which are easy for your boss to respond to.

Try not to take it personally when your boss goes with something different than what you advise.
posted by ramenopres at 9:31 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have worked with someone like this, who just would not drop things until she was convinced that everyone agreed 100% (in the process unintentionally souring many people on things they were previously 99% agreed to). It's such a hard situation because these types of insecurities run really deep.

Given that she actually IS a good boss with reasonable judgement, the absolute most forthright thing you could do at a moment like this would be to look at her as say, "Boss, you don't have to try to convince me. Your decision is different than mine would be, but you've earned my trust and I know that if you want to go with green, there's a really good reason for it, even if we think about the issue a little differently. I think that's what makes us a good team!' Consistently framing the issue as one of 'wow, our brains work differently but you have a track record of making good calls so I'm glad I could get your input' can address the insecurity a bit but also firmly establish that you're going to disagree at times.
posted by Ausamor at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

"you've earned my trust"

Boy, I would not say this to someone who supervised me.
posted by praemunire at 10:58 AM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have one good affirmative answer I use when I need to attempt to close this kind of feedback loop with someone senior to me: "Understood." or "I completely understand." with whatever body language I can muster to indicate my utmost respect and impending exit. I'll smile and nod my head, close my notebook/collect my things, and/or stand up or shift my weight towards the door. (I think those "understood" answers work well over IM, too, but are too brief to be polite via email.)

Another idea is to say, "Understood," and then be ready to switch topics to new topic. Select one you actually could use her input on. "I completely understand. What about orange or yellow widgets for summer? Are we ready to talk about that yet?"

Finally, repeating your own response two or three times can signal to the person you're having a conversation with that they are repeating themselves. I think it would be tricky to do this with a boss, though. You have to select just the right phrase so that it still sounds respectful the second and third time you say it. (I have not tried this in the wild with bosses, but I do it a lot with the repeaters in my life. "Understood." "Understood." "Understood." )
posted by juliplease at 11:00 AM on September 15, 2017

I feel like she wants to be understood, and you're not doing enough to affirm that, so she gets stuck in this feedback loop.

>I think a lot of commenters are missing that the asker actually says they'll make the change quite quickly in the interaction:

I didn't miss it, it's what happens after that's the problem:

BOSS: I see you went with the red handles on the new widget order.
ME: Yep. That OK?
BOSS: Well, normally it would be, but it's spring, so they'll need to be green this time.
ME: Ah, gotcha. No problem, I'll just—
BOSS: You get what I'm saying? Green is more spring-y, is all.
ME: ...Yeah.
BOSS: You sound a little hesitant.

She isn't wrong. It was hesitant. So instead of "...yeah," you just reaffirm you understand.

BOSS: "You get what I'm saying?"
YOU: "Ah, I totally get what you're saying! " Or "I completely understand, that's a good point! I'll get on it!" "That makes perfect sense," "I hadn't thought of that, you're right," "I get it now, I'll do that!" etc.

Unless you want to get into it with her, and want to question her choices (the question seems to indicate this isn't the case), then just agree vehemently, say you understand her reasoning and you will do her request. No pausing, no smiling, no explaining your point of view or reasoning. All of this just extends the feedback loop.

And I'm sorry, but in this context, "Whatever you want," or "You're the boss," just seems passive aggressive to me. She wants to be understood, and all of those are really dismissive.
posted by Dimes at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have been this kind of boss. I acted like your boss because I respect my employees' opinions and I genuinely want to hear what they think. I oversee a large area; they know more about the specific thing they are working on than I do. I want them to give their opinion on green vs. red, backed up with data, and I want to make the final decision with that context in mind. At least with me, it's not a test of any kind or a power play or some kind of emotional game. I just want to have a good discussion with a person who knows about the subject and come to a reasonable conclusion.

Your expressions of passive-aggressive "Sure, whatever you say, boss!" would make me worry about your capacity for independent judgement and your ability to function without supervision. To be totally blunt, my time is *more* valuable than yours, and I don't want to waste it walking through a decision either. I want you to give me your honest opinion, based on facts, and then to decide.

This is not due to a lack of confidence on my part (?!). It's because I want to get the best data to make decisions (and you, the employee, presumably know more about what you are doing than I do). It's because I respect your capacity to reason and think. It's because I want to work with and promote people who can think through situations, come to a reasonable conclusion, and then advocate for it when necessary (and yield when it's not important or you're not sure). It's also because I want to have a friendly, collaborative relationship with the people I work with, and want to hear what they think.
posted by 3491again at 11:28 AM on September 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

I think what's missing is you did not say a thing about green. At no point did you engage with her on the merits of green, which is what it sounds like she was seeking. You took two routes: red is better, and saying it's up to her. "Red is better tho" is about red; "yeah whatever" is about conceding to the boss (perhaps more reluctantly than you intended.) Neither of those things show engagement with green, or her ideas.

Depending upon your tone and body language in person, I do think it could seem a bit defensive on your part, actually. By the time she shows you the websites it sounds like you've totally checked out of the conversation. ("Yeah totally" doesn't demonstrate understanding or interest and it says nothing about green.) It might seem like you're stonewalling/sulking/giving up because she didn't agree with the red, and that's why she's pushing it?

In other words, maybe you think you've demonstrated understanding and agreement but she's not getting that. Maybe next time, you can try like "oh, green, for spring, because of the green, cool" (not verbatim of course) before snapping things shut with agreement.
posted by kapers at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2017

Mouse Army has it: "The real problem is that the boss wants you to have already had the idea she is proposing."

A whole lot of people seem to think your boss is just suuuuuper nice and fair, honestly wants your opinion, or is innocently and kind of harmlessly insecure. Wow, man, that's not at allllll what I got from it!

I'm really surprised so few people saw it, but if that example is representative of a conversation you'd have with your boss, I would say there is a very strong possibility your boss genuinely thinks you're kind of oblivious/slow.

I've trained people before, and a loooooooot of being a boss/supervising people is getting them to think the way you think (learned through experience, typically) so that they can independently make the decisions you'd make and you don't have to micromanage them. When you say your boss "is a control freak" I'm guessing that's exactly what she's attempting to do here. She's trying to program you to think like her so she doesn't have to spend so much time explaining things.

Really surprised more people didn't pick up on that, since it's pretty common boss behavior. If she's really egregious about it with you, it probably means she's frustrated with you and possibly even has singled you out to pick a beef with.
posted by stockpuppet at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since your boss is neither engaging with your words nor taking yes for an answer, your analysis sounds pretty good. Some people really want consensus when a disagreement goes their way and aren't willing to recognize that you can't argue someone past yes.

I would caution against being super enthusiastic to prevent this - unless your boss is monumentally bad at reading people, she may well notice and not even take genuine enthusiastic agreement. On the other hand, she might be receptive to a super ultra mega diplomatic and preconsidered recognition of the phenomenon when next it happens.
posted by The Gaffer at 6:44 PM on September 15, 2017

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