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When we talk to our boss he always disagrees on everything we say. Not just job related therms but sports, food, holidays! Everything.

This is very annoying and sometimes every ridiculous. When we talk about technical specification then these are facts and nothing to disagree on. We always thought this would be just a bad habit but our new marketing manager said, he does this with intention!

Wow!

He said behavior like this is being taught on some management schools. If you always disagree with you employee then you are never "on the same level" because this is a bad thing to happen. Then you are equal!

I could not believe what he told me but somehow it makes sense (in a twisted way). I searched the web but I could not find any proof of this story.

Is this actually an approach that is being taught, and is there a name for it? And whether it is or isn't, is there any way to "manage the manager" to fix it?

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    To be effective,bosses must work WITH their subordinates and I am not sure how your boss's habit of disagreing with everyone and everything helps him to get others get things done for him. As long as he confines his quirk to non-work related matters, there is a chance that he'll perform. Otherwise, he is probably going to end up being fired unless he owns the firm or he's got a personal relationship with his own boss and his own boss is protecting him. Dec 24, 2014 at 11:54
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    Having said that, I am not answering your question because I believe that you are not asking the right question for your situation. In fact, the relevant question should be an actionable "how do I handle with this situation?" rather than an open call for speculation like "has anyone heard ...." The call for speculation is not a question that results in actionable answers. It does result in opinions that are all over the place and we don't want that. We are running an answer site not the online equivalent of a debating group that meets in coffee shops Dec 24, 2014 at 12:02
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    Have you tried telling him he's a good manager that you all admire and don't find annoying and ridiculous? Or that you shouldn't get a raise? Might be worth knowing how far he'll go to disagree with you. Dec 24, 2014 at 12:12
  • You should start saying things you know he agrees with... on a spiritual and social level. After you get him to make a fool of himself, quit. Dec 24, 2014 at 13:34
  • @VietnhiPhuvan is that a debating group that meets in a "coffee shop", or just a normal coffee shop?
    – bharal
    Dec 24, 2014 at 13:54

3 Answers 3

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It would be impossible to answer the question of whether this is a management technique being taught, because certainly someone somewhere might teach such a ridiculous thing. However, I read a LOT of management literature, and current approaches to management emphasize things like employee engagement, empowering employees, managing from the bottom up, reaching consensus, and having "real" conversations. Disagreeing with the people you manage as a strategy would not fit in with current management philosophy.

So your boss has an annoying habit. Some strategies you might consider:

  • Model the behavior you wish to create. Try agreeing with some of the things he says. Say the words, "I agree." Let him hear the words and experience them.
  • Choose subjects for conversation where you know his views ahead of time, to create opportunities for agreement.
  • Ask his opinion early in the conversation so that he is a contributor to the conversation before it is polarized. Then perhaps it will be you who is disagreeing with him.
  • Disagree back. Politely.
  • If you think he is disagreeing just to disagree, do not reward that behavior with your attention. Focus on the other people in the group, or end the conversation.
  • Consider that this habit may be borne out of insecurities. Work to bolster his confidence by showing that you value his opinion in general. In particular, ask his opinion about questions you have regarding your work.
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Let's start by considering two points.

  1. Smart people don't think others are stupid.

    Being smart means thinking things through - trying to find the real answer, not the first answer.

    Being stupid means avoiding thinking by jumping to conclusions.

  2. Arrogant, dismissive leadership can lead to groupthink.


Bottom Line:

  • If you're motivated to do so, you can educate your boss about these two important principles.
  • But unfortunately, more often than not, a tiger can't change his stripes. So you should decide if this problem can possibly be fixed. And if it can't, you should find a new job and fire your boss. Life is too short.
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    +1 to the bottom line. If your description is correct you have two choices: Either figure out what the individual's real issues are (perhaps -- horror of horrors! -- talk to them directly about it?), or get yourself out of the poisonous atmosphere. Or both.
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2014 at 14:42
  • @keshlam: Thank you. Just curious - Did you click up vote? Merry Christmas!
    – Jim G.
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:03
  • Forgot; tnx for reminder. (We need a way to send private notes to other participants... though keeping that from being abused can be a pain in the patootie.)
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:08
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    Agreed. You can educate the ignorant. It is beyong our capacity to help those who need a brain transplant. Dec 24, 2014 at 15:12
  • @VietnhiPhuvan: Thanks, man. Just curious - Did you remember to up vote? Merry Christmas!
    – Jim G.
    Dec 24, 2014 at 15:20
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To build on the point regarding reframing the question into "how do I handle with this situation?"

One approach might be to try behavior modification using operant conditioning (from behaviorism learning theory).

Note: Behaviorism has acquired a somewhat negative connotation in certain research circles in recent decades as too simplistic and outmoded, in lieu of more or less treating the mind as a 'black box' and giving too much weight to the role of environmental factors in shaping behavior. However, the perception of a theory doesn't necessarily make it less effective. Popular or not, behaviorism actually works quite well when applied consistently and correctly, whether to rats, relatives, peers, or bosses...

The premise is that 'compulsive disagreeing' is a type of behavior, and as such it can be modified with systematic association with positive or negative reinforcement (reward and/or punishment).

Two specific strategies: (assuming the third strategy, "punishment" may not be feasible)

  1. Positive reinforcement: On a rare occasion that the boss drops his guard for a moment ("happy" hour?) and disagrees less, or agrees more, to reinforce this by affirming his authority. You have to be careful here to not affirm your point with which he agrees, but the agreeing behavior itself. This can be done by praise/flattery.

Example: "Well if YOU think so, it must really be the case!" "Yeah I think YOU are totally right." (even though you are actually totally right and he merely agreed with/acknowledged your point) Forget your ego for a moment and just roll with it in the name of science....

  1. Negative reinforcement: Try to establish a consistent schedule of negative reinforcement. This requires removal of positive reinforcement in response to the stimulus (disagreeing behavior). For instance, typically when he disagrees you just carry on and try to maintain a normal conversation for some time as if nothing happened. Your boss may implicitly perceive this as a positive reinforcement - it signals that he can get away with his disagreeing behavior!

Instead, you want to remove this positive reinforcement by creating an 'adverse stimulus' - something slightly unpleasant that your boss experiences when he disagrees with something that is objectively true or that is way over-the-top ridiculous ("No, Christmas Eve is Dec. 25th, not 24th!")

Whenever he exhibits such behavior, think of what you can consistently do that is passable for "ok" conduct but will subtly indicate to him his response is not well received. Maybe stop the conversation abruptly and excuse yourself to get back to work as soon as he disagrees. Maybe simply be quiet and passive, non-participatory. It might require patience on your part, but eventually that will begin to sink in for him on a subconscious level. He won't quite be able to point his finger to what's wrong, but somehow will feel that something is. This becomes a "consistent schedule of negative reinforcement." Once this schedule is established, you can then remove this negative reinforcement when the boss again makes the mistake of agreeing with something you said. So instead of that blank stare and silence, smile with admiration and joyfully restate what a great idea whatever he just said is.

Do this with discipline over a period of time and you will be on your way to successfully conditioning a better boss and human being.

Good luck!

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