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I'm currently working under a boss who cannot accept disagreement. When I say "No sorry, I disagree because [...], I think it would bring more value if [...]", he responds very aggressively, interrupts me when I speak, yells and intimidates me.

I recently tried to have a talk in private with him. I explained him the way I perceived his attitude, and I said I'd like to keep a critical thinking about our work instead of simply executing order. But he said his attitude is professional, and told me that I perceive things wrong... His vision is when 2 persons debates, the one with higher rank in the hierarchy is generally right. The higher ranked person has the authority to take decisions and give orders without justifications, since the lower ranked employee is not supposed to be able to understand the orders/justifications. The duty of the lower ranked person is to follow orders, just like a soldier in an army. He can ask questions, but he is not supposed to understand the decisions. And performance is judged on how well the orders are executed, not on critical thinking.

Also more generally, I receive from him a lot of negative comments ("You're not inspiring", "you know nothing about [some technical stuff]", etc...)

How should I handle this? Since this circus has lasted too long, I'm actively looking for another job and I'm considering quitting if I don't find in the next few months.

Please excuse me in advance if this is irrelevant or even inappropriate, IMHO it could be related: I'm working as a software engineer in China (for a Western company) and I'm at the bottom at the hierarchy. I was born and grew up in a Western country. I received Western education. The boss I mentioned is Chinese and is just 1 level above me in the hierarchy. And his vision typically sounds like Confucianism. Please understand that I'm not relating this situation to Chinese people/manners/race (and I'm trying my best not to keep animosity against Chinese people), but to Confucianism, as I'd like to understand more about it. So I would also appreciate any answer or comment related to Confucianism.

Edit: This is not a duplicate of How to communicate when I feel attacked by superiors' aggressive tone and impolite/foul language?, because it is not only about aggressive tone from management, it also involves multiculturalism and it seems to be a "philosophy" from my boss. Furthermore, it's related to critical thinking.

Edit2: Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems Chinese people (at least in my area) really communicate like my boss. When I look and ask around in other IT companies in Southern China, it seems quite normal... We are very far from the American/Canadian standards that I'm used to.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Joe Strazzere, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Philipp, Michael Grubey Mar 25 '15 at 16:25

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – Joe Strazzere, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Philipp, Michael Grubey
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Good bosses won't continually make their reports do something "just because" with no explanation other than rank. On the other hand, good employees should speak up and use their judgement even when the boss doesn't appreciate it. Few things are sadder than a shop where people just obey without question. This is especially important as maturing organizations shift from using promoted workers as managers to using hired "professional" managers who don't necessarily know the nitty-gritty of the work. – teego1967 Mar 24 '15 at 19:44
  • @WindRaven that's not how professional military's work Rupert's (junior officers) find that throwing ones toys out of the pram is not a very effective way of leading troops. – Pepone Mar 24 '15 at 20:46
  • @Pepone true but I have run across Butter Bars (US Army for junior officers) that even after finding it not very effective still kept it up. If you know how to play their game you become the "best". Spent way to many days in the sand box playing the game until we finally got him relegated to supply. – RubberChickenLeader Mar 24 '15 at 21:18
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This has to do with the general cultural dimension of power-distance. In America, power-distance is not very great. In general, we tolerate more questioning from subordinates. In Asia, however, power-distance is much greater - employees are not considered as free to question their managers.

Regarding your specific words:

"No sorry, I disagree because [...], I think it would bring more value if [...]"

This reads to me as rather impolitic from an American point of view. I can only imagine it sounds much worse to the ears of an Asian.

May I recommend adjusting your choice of words and attempt to be more tactful? I would certainly not say,

"No sorry, I disagree because..."

Instead, say something like:

"Have you considered...?"

And I think you'll get better results. At this point, you should stop doing what's not working, and instead, try being more agreeable with your boss. He is your boss after all.

If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll have a reputation for being combative with your boss, and it can be a small world for software engineers. If you've decided to look to leave, you may find it difficult to command the compensation you want if you cannot use your current boss as a reference. When at work, focus on making your boss happy. If your boss is happy, and you get an offer for more elsewhere, your boss will not want to see you go, but can only ethically state that he was happy with you. This is the optimal situation, and you will then carry both a good reputation and good references with you wherever you go.

5

Your boss takes an authoritarian or commanding stance when it comes to leadership style. As most resources will point out to you:

This is classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but the least often effective.

There may or may not be multicultural issues at play here. What you've described sounds like a typical, albeit unfortunate, workplace culture. My knowledge of Confucianism comes strictly from Wikipedia, but I know the "every person has their place" mentality you described (which may or may not be Confucianism) exist in the US aplenty.

Unfortunately, if this is the method your superior uses, there's not really anything you can do to change that. If he's getting sufficient results with his style, then no one higher up the hierarchy is likely to address the issue (or even perceive it as one).

I think you've already addressed the current best long-term solution: find a different employer. When you're looking for your next position, emphasize finding out about the company culture and management styles. For example, if you reach an interview with someone that you directly report to, you can ask, "How would you describe your management style?" and other related questions.

In the short-term, you can change your approach to see if it gets better results. It sounds like you've only used the method of outright saying you disagree, which may actually put this standoffish boss on the defensive.

Try rewording your approach. "What if we tried this to add such and such value?" "Would you also like me to look into this other method?" This way, you're offering suggestions, not countering his opinion. By asking, you're playing into his desire to be the one to make decisions.

You'll also need to match your tone to this new approach. Try to sound as if you're offering help, or asking for clarity. Avoid sounding as if you're trying to point out flaws in his plans or just disagree with him.

You may not get the results you desire, even with a new approach. What stands out to me is that you admit that you're at the bottom of the hierarchy. That's not usually a position where people expect disagreement to come from. I'm not at all surprised that a superior (even if by one level), doesn't want to give the lowest-level employee the time of day, especially when there's no rapport there.

It would be a sign of respect for this boss to listen to your ideas. However, he's made it pretty clear that he thinks you disagreeing with him as you are is disrespectful. Those are two opposing forces. The way to overcome that would be to first garner his respect in other ways, so that your contrary ideas no longer seem disrespectful to him.

3

So, since you're already looking for other work, one way to handle the disagreement is to quit disagreeing and simply do it his way. As long as he is not asking you to do something illegal, does it really matter if you're not doing it the best way, in your opinion?

There often are business reasons that are not always understood or even known by the people doing the work, and sometimes decisions are made that don't appear to be the best ones. And sometimes they really are not the best decisions. But the responsibility for those decisions belong to the management that is making them. Those of us who do the work sometimes have to do things that look like it's the wrong way, a slower way, a sloppier way.

Often, the best way to show a manager that their direction is incorrect is by doing it their way, or at least trying to. Especially if they don't listen, then doing it their way is the best option to try. Not that it will make it successful, but because if their way really won't work, you'll be able to more clearly show that. And if their way does work, you'll be able to see that, too.

3

Your wonderful boss has tunnel vision and narrow-minded, pointy headed people like him are the enablers who made it possible for the Western European powers to stomp on China during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

If I were you, I'd fire this boss on the ground of irreconciliable differences. The fact that he shows a certain amount of contempt for you should have motivated you to float your resume long ago - I personally wouldn't stand the idea of working for someone who shows contempt for the subordinates. Your boss is right about one thing - as long as he takes responsibility for his decisions, he has the right and prerogative to make them. And that includes the really dumb decisions. He is wrong about the one that is higher in the hierarchy being right. He is conflating the one higher in the hierarchy getting his way with the one higher in the hierarchy being right.

You probably have better things to do with what's left of your life span than to learn how to suffer working for a boss like him. If you agree, get yourself a new job and drop him like a bad habit.

  • I tend to find this behavior mostly in either boss's who lack confidence or are genuinely worried someone is out to steal their job. They effectively act as a gate keeper ensuring no one can "one up" them and create their own job security. If it was a peer or coworker there are ways to handle it, but as it's your boss you should start looking around. A good boss depends on their employee's who are more informed in their respective roles to help guide the department to making good choices, if they aren't going to use you for your expertise then that's just a waste. – RualStorge Mar 24 '15 at 18:22
  • @RualStorge Any boss whose brain cells are not completely fried would grasp that his subordinates' success is his success and that he can justifiably take credit for the success on behalf of the team. I try to avoid having bosses whose brains short-circuited. Unfortunately, they all act rational at interview time so it's impossible to tell :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Mar 24 '15 at 18:34
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    This is one reason when it's my turn to ask questions as the interviewee I tend to ask questions in par with something that went wrong, why, and how it was resolved. As well as something they did here that they were proud of. I've dodged many a bullet with by interviewing the interviewer for a minute or two. – RualStorge Mar 24 '15 at 18:42
  • My boss and I have different jobs, and I'm supposed to be better at my job than he is, while he is supposed to be better at his job than I am. – gnasher729 Mar 24 '15 at 23:05
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    @gnasher729 The bottom line reason I usually get laid off is that I am better - in some case, significantly better - at my job than the management is at theirs. Yes, management itself is not rocket science but it makes no diff when they and their brains don't work well together :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Mar 25 '15 at 0:00
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Have you looked at yourself and how you've possibly created the situation? There are many ways to disagree and coming out and saying "I disagree" tends to put someone immediately on the defensive. Not the attitude you want the other person to have when you are proposing an opposing alternative. Certainly not the attitude you want from a person with authority over you.

I had some clashes in my early career and eventually learned a simple technique. It takes practice and will not become a habit for years but I can't remember the last time I've had to blatantly say "I disagree" to someone with regards to a work issue. I simply ask leading question(s) that will let that person come to the conclusion all on their own that their opinion is "not optimal". If you lead good enough they'll come up with your idea all on their own. It means you have to know your stuff and you need to understand the "whys" of your trade. But that's the best part, because if you just disagree because in your opinion your way is better but nothing to back it up then your way isn't the better opinion. Yours is just a different opinion.

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