Ask a Boss: My Boss Asks My Advice Then Ignores It!

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Dear Boss,

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

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

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

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

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

Well, at least you’re vindicated in the end when you get proved right.

I can see why this is frustrating, but asking for your opinion isn’t a promise to agree with your opinion or to act on it. (As an advice columnist, I get evidence of this every day.) For a lot of people, talking through options helps them clarify their own thinking, and helps them figure out what they don’t want to do. It sounds like that might be happening with your boss.

And really, if he didn’t value your opinion at all, he probably wouldn’t be asking for it.

It’s still annoying, of course, but it might be less annoying if you try to see it that way.

That said, are there any times when he takes your recommendations? If it’s truly the exception for that to happen, it’s a reasonable thing for you to point out to him, especially since it’s impacting your morale. You could say it this way: “I wanted to ask you about something I’ve been noticing lately. I’ve noticed that you frequently will ask for my opinion about something but decide to do things a different way — and then later ending up taking my initial recommendation when the other way doesn’t work out as well. For example, it happened when we decided to go with one order form rather than two. I made a recommendation, we went a different way, and then we ultimately ended up with what I’d recommended after all. That kind of thing happens pretty frequently. Obviously you don’t need to take my advice every time, but I wanted to point out that I have some expertise built up in these areas and I’d love to have you give my advice more weight since I have a track record of being good at sorting through this type of thing.”

Note that the focus here isn’t on complaining that this is frustrating (although it is), but on pointing out part of your professional value and asking that it be used more.

Now, will this make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your boss and what sort of person he is. This conversation could jog him into realizing that there is indeed a pattern here, where the advice from you that he rejects often ends up being correct. Or he might just be someone who’s going to do things his own way, even when he’s wrong. Hell, it could be both — he could realize that what you’re saying is right and still be wed to doing things his own way first. That’s not terribly uncommon with small-business owners, since they’re used to doing things their own way — and small companies are very much controlled by the quirks of whoever runs them.

So this conversation may or may not change things … but it’s a reasonable thing to bring up. After that, though, the best thing you can do is to try not to take it personally when your advice is ignored. Your job is to give the best counsel that you can — but then it’s up to your boss to make the final call, and that’s okay. It’s also okay for you to step back emotionally a bit; you don’t need to be so invested in these decisions that it eats at you if he makes the wrong one, especially on things that won’t make or break the business.

For what it’s worth, it can be particularly tough to step back emotionally when you’ve been at a job a long time, and you’ve been at this one for eight years. Working somewhere that long can give you a sense of ownership over the whole operation that can make it hard to emotionally distance yourself, especially a three-person company.

Sometimes just recognizing that can make it easier to detach a bit … but if you find that you can’t and you’re increasingly annoyed by stuff like this, it could also be that you’re ready to move on to something new. That might seem like a big leap from your letter, and you should ignore it if you’re otherwise happy there, but it’s something to consider if you find that minor quirks keep grating on you.

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Ask a Boss: My Boss Asks My Advice Then Ignores It!