Do You Work for a Stubborn Office Tyrant?
Role Model Good Behavior with a Bad Boss
Posted November 8, 2010
Your boss asks you to organize the spring conference. Your goal is to increase attendance by at least 75 percent, if not 100. You outline an outstanding marketing campaign and present your ideas, expecting a "Well done!" Instead, you get a litany of what's wrong with your plan.
"This conference logo is no good," you hear. Change the layout. I don't like the colors. This font is all wrong." "But ..." you start to explain, but he interrupts.
"No. No. NO!" Last year's was better. Change it back," your irritated boss says.
Swallowing your pride, you move on to the next agenda item. "We can run an ad on that online small business site. It's very affordable," you say quickly, knowing the budget limitations.
"No. Won't work."
"But that's a top site for our target customer," you say reasonably (trying not to whine, shout, or stomp your feet).
"No. Nada. Nyet." The boss says, "You're giving the Internet too much weight. Mail-outs worked well last year."
And so it continues with every one of your ideas, until you end up with a campaign exactly like last years, and a thorough knowledge of the word "No" in every language.
Why Does Your Boss Shut Down Your Ideas?
You're working with a textbook, stubborn "Terrible Office Tyrant" - an adult who reverts to acting like a toddler, a.k.a. TOT, when things start to unravel in the office. Stubborn TOTs treat change as if they have "cooties" - they don't want to touch it, get near it, or handle it themselves - unless they initiate the change. Their approach makes it nearly impossible for you to do your job well because you encounter resistance, usually in the form of a loud "No!" at every turn. If you prove them wrong, they look for a way to prove themselves right and have the last word, which is... "No."
Your inflexible boss fears stretching outside of his comfort zone and looks for an excuse to remain planted right where he is. They worry that if they change course or tries something new, that will spell failure. Failure is not an option, especially in an uncertain economy and high unemployment.
Your TOT may also just be avoiding ... work. If the change you propose entails more effort for this kind of boss, they want nothing to do with it. Even thinking about change can tax a TOT, and so they struggle to conserve her mental resources by just saying "No!" before thinking through your proposition. TOTs may justify their immobility by repeatedly telling you that upper management won't approve anything, or that they know what the company wants, so best to play it safe.
Stubbornness is an innate human trait - anyone in the workplace, even ourselves are capable of this trait. And thankfully, not all bosses are intransigent TOTs all the time. So what can be done?
How to Tame A Stubborn-Acting TOT
The good news is that you don't have to lock horns with a bull-headed boss. Instead, practice these TOT-taming tips bad bosses:
Choose your words carefully. Use positive language to relax your boss when he's stuck in a rut. Always begin with an affirmation: "Thanks for doing such a great job of preparing me for that meeting." When you make your request, convert your closed-ended question into something more open-ended.
For example, instead of asking if you can leave early (an automatic "No!") — say, "I've finished working on the status report because I got in early. Thanks for all your guidance on it. It would be so helpful if I could leave a bit early. How does 4:30 sound?" Your reasonable tone will avert an automatic "No" and convert it into an "OK."
Offer choices and compromises that empower your TOT. Instead of posing your request as a Yes/No question, offer your TOT choices. Change "Can we end the meeting early today?" to "Should we end at 4:00 or 4:30?" Your TOT will have decision-making power, so he won't have to assert it by saying "No."
Align your needs with that of your TOT's.
Remind your boss how your ideas reinforce their larger objectives. In other words, when you run into a mountain of unreasonable objections, inject the fact that you really are on the same page. Make sure you outline the "goodies" - the mutual benefits of your great proposal.
Set Limits to Bad Behavior
If your boss's stubbornness is out of control and is affecting your ability to work, it's time to stand up for yourself. Your little tyrant of a boss will likely respect you more in the long run if you diplomatically explain your boundaries - especially in terms of the quality of your work product. Being an office diplomat will help with TOT co-workers as well.
Career Essential Reads
There's a good chance you've encountered more than one office tyrant in your career. Since we've all had our own stubborn moments, we can think back on what has worked best with ourselves. We just have to read past that "brick" facade before we take action.
You can turn a "No, No, NO!" into at least a "Hmm, okay...," with a little work and patience.