Tricks From Couples' Therapy For Dealing With A Boss Who's Wrong

Quick tips for navigating the minefield of projects derailed by bossy, product-derailing buffoonery.

"The very first thing you learn in diplomacy school is that everyone wants something," writes Vance Crowe at Articulate Ventures, and your client or boss may not want to simply build the best product.

Instead, they might be bringing a number of interests to the table, whether they recognize it themselves or not, like:

  • To feel like they're in charge
  • To feel respected
  • To save face with their boss
  • To account for money, time, and other resources
Although that list might have infinite possiblities, Crowe suggests that as you begin to know your partner in argument better, you'll gain empathy, one of the keys of emotional intelligence, and an empathic sense of their values. Still, this can be difficult to gauge--even for the person experiencing them. And Crowe observes that few bosses have the emotional self-transparency to admit that they yearn for the approval of their subordinates.

Tell me more

Regardless of the complexities of your bosses' interior life, you're still trying to make yourself heard without giving (or receiving) an earful. To that end, Crowe recommends a subtle trick for when you hit a point of contention: Simply repeat back to them what they said and ask "Is that what you meant?" (a standard trick ripped from couples' therapy). If they agree to your recap, ask them to tell you more about it. When you repeat their perspective back to them, you give them a chance to expound and, crucially, to feel heard.

Leave it loose

Don't go for the hard "I'm right, you're wrong" stop. Don't push people into backpedaling; it's not great for building long-term relationships. Instead, Crowe says, suggest that you "swing by later" to see how that bad decision your boss just made will shape up later. Then you can course correct after they've felt the thrill of thinking they're right.

As well, Crowe notes, many decisions are made behind closed doors, so it's in your interest (and the interest of the project) to get behind those doors at a later date.

Don't stall

Some adept folks try to delay decisions to mitigate risk. Don't be one of them.

"It may be politically advantageous to avoid risk," Crowe writes, "but it sure sucks to live your life that way."

So, in conclusion, you can disagree with you boss, navigate office politics, and help the right decisions to get made--all without living your life in a way that sucks.

What to do when your non-technical boss is just plain wrong

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Kim'n'Cris Knight]

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