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There are many times when going about my job and making recommendations when my direct supervisor will perpetuate false and incorrect facts. He is a great manager and a wonderful buffer between our team and c levels but many times lacks a basic understanding of the technical parts of our job to a point of telling me I'm wrong on things I have documentation to prove. Should I simply keep my mouth shut and deal with the slight loss of productivity or confront him so things with my actual job go smoother.

An example for those in IT was when I spent 3 hours to recheck the settings for spanning tree because it "shuts down ports when there are ip address conflicts." Even after explaining it was a layer 2 Data link layer protocol that could not see layer 3 and showing him documents on what it actually did.

  • Please elaborate more on that exxample. So what happened next? You just said your side – Adel Jan 12 '16 at 4:50
  • The SR. Systems Administrator was in on the convo and he agreed with me on the fact it could not be STP, then i was told not to waste any more time and proceeded to check the configs on all our switches while fielding calls that users could not logon to the system for 3 hours until we finally found the issue 30 minutes after I was suppose to leave in the place I told him we should look (DHCP was full) – Nick Young Jan 12 '16 at 5:07
  • Well, I have to echo blankip then. If you know you're right , stand up for it - politely pull boss aside & say "Boss, with all due respect, you're wrong about this and I need to do this this way otherwise we're wasting time" – Adel Jan 12 '16 at 5:10
  • Note that the safe way to question a decision is to say "I'm confused; in this situation I would have expected X rather than Y, because Z. Could you help me understand what I missed, so I don't get make that mistake again?" – keshlam Jan 12 '16 at 10:12
  • Added country tag as this is culturally dependent. In many Asian countries telling your boss that they are wrong would be a severely career limiting move, in North America it should be fine if done tactfully. – Myles Jan 12 '16 at 13:25
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No.... But make SURE you are right.

Even in the example you are giving I understand that spanning tree is VLAN orientated and shouldn't care about layer 3. However if you are using the switch to hand out IPs he could have just misspoken or perhaps remembering an odd bug.

The reason you have to say something is:

  • you possibly look like a dumbass later if you spend 3 hours troubleshooting nonsense.

  • if your boss makes you continue even after you say your opinion and he is wrong, he is much more apt to trust you later. By saying nothing he hasn't gone through this process. Don't be a dick about it or argue, if anything joke about it or bet a soda.

  • if your boss believes you after you explain and you are right - well this is a really good sign for your relationship going forward. You aren't even giving him a chance right now.

  • your boss, being a boss might have 100 things going through his mind. I know when I had 40 guys reporting to me I could barely hold a conversation. Put me in front of a switch/router to configure and it might take a couple minutes to get going but was soon just fine. He may or may not get it. If he does he will appreciate that you are cutting him some slack. If he doesn't then he will want an ally to keep him true with tech issues.

  • if you end up being wrong, accept it. Still speak your mind. Your boss will learn what to trust you on and what not to. I had no issues with guys saying whatever to me. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes right, a lot of times it was just miscommunication. Often these discussions are when you learn the most.

  • when you are disagreeing, do it one on one. Don't put boss on the spot.

  • Can you expand on how I am not giving him a chance? I felt like i had but would appreciate tips on ensuring that I do in the future if I did not give him a better chance. Thanks. – Nick Young Jan 12 '16 at 4:16
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    You are not giving him a chance because you are assuming that he can't take criticism. You are just doing the wrong thing because you think he will react wrong. – blankip Jan 12 '16 at 4:23
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In this question:

Should I keep my mouth shut when my boss is wrong?

The key here is "should". Based on your circumstances, you have to weigh being "obedient" against correctness, and building trust against "time wasting" arguing.

In the complexity of life, your boss needs to get things done effectively. Disagreement consumes time and energy. The hard part for you is to determine if that is a good use of time and energy for the both of you. Right now, it seems like it is not productive.

If your boss doesn't trust you and you can't communicate your correctness to him, you are wasting your time. It may be more important for your boss to perceive you as someone "that does what they're told" vs. someone that is "often argumentative and sometimes right." Your boss clearly doesn't see his own errors, so trying to show him the error of his ways is like painting a picture for a blind person; it's the wrong form of communication.

Over time, as you demonstrate that you are compliant and competent, your boss may begin to rely on your opinion as well. Right now, your competence does not seem to matter (sorry - that is borderline insulting, but that is probably why you feel conflicted over this). This is important to recognize since you probably would not bother to "argue" with someone that you see as incompetent. Well, neither does your boss.

You risk making it worse if not only does your opinion/competence not matter, but you also waste time and energy trying to prove points / arguing over "little" issues. Your boss does not sound like the type to take the time to listen to you, so "being right" will probably not be noticed either.

Your boss probably needs time to mature and/or time to learn to trust you. Or else you may need to move on. Bosses that don't trust their subordinates in a skilled profession are usually pretty toxic over long periods of time. Keep quiet and do a good job for a while, try to learn how to produce what your boss asks for as quickly as possible, wait to see if your opinion is heard (or, ideally, asked for) and then take action as needed.

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There isn't a single answer to this because it depends on a lot of variables:

  • your relationship with who the boss is in any given scenario
  • how technically-minded the boss is
  • your experience and knowledge about the project/domain
  • your standing and reputation in the team/company
  • how certain you are that you're right: you may not be aware of certain project constraints or client demands
  • how good your past recommendations have been, i.e don't be the guy who cried wolf
  • ...

If you're dealing with a new boss or aren't sure what you can and can't raise, often the best approach is to simply ask your boss directly whether he'd like you to report any potential issues you see to him. But, this can back-fire if your boss isn't receptive to feedback or doesn't understand the value of his reports informing him of potential problems. Such bosses might think you're accusing them of being foolish or ignorant when good managers will welcome feedback from their reports. In the case of IT, the developers often have a greater technical knowledge of the details involved while managers have to consider the project at a higher/strategic level. Good managers will realise that they can't be aware of everything and welcome feedback.

Good managers will make sure you know that your feedback is welcomed and will point out the best ways of raising it or explain why they've understood your point but have decided to go ahead with X over Y anyway because of reasons A, B and C.

So if the opposite is true and your feedback hasn't been well-received there are two options:

  • you're not reporting issues correctly: you raise too many problems, problems that aren't really an issue, you don't react well when they tell you they'll go ahead anyway, ...
  • you have a bad manager

If it's the former, you can again ask your manager how he wants you to handle your feedback and what you can do to improve the way you report issues. If it's the latter, you can try to force a change but you're typically fighting an uphill battle. People can be very resistant to change and it can be hard to make them realise they're doing things wrong, especially when they have mistaken ideas about the manager-report relationship. If you want to try I'd suggest making a separate question for advice on trying to change a manager's bad habits.


In your specific case, it sounds like you've got a manager with a lack of knowledge on at least one core aspect of IT Networking but who doesn't realise how little he knows (cf. the obligatory link to the Dunning-Kruger effect). If you were calm and reasonable in your explanation and he still didn't realise he was wrong then you're dealing with someone resistant to change and feedback and ducking your head in the sand may be the best option going forward.

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It very much depends on your position.

Are you paid for doing as you are told? Do as you are told.

Are you paid for knowing what you are doing (including knowing better than your boss)? You better know what you are doing and tell the boss what should be done.

(Obviously everything depends on circumstances. Don't tell the boss in front of customers, or in front of his boss. And don't do as you are told if it is obviously an expensive or dangerous mistake. And if your boss is often confused, you need to manage that).

Re-reading your question, it seems the bosses order wasted three hours of your time and left a customer waiting, so that would fall under "expensive mistake". If the boss reacts badly to being told about even expensive mistakes, then do whatever you can to make the bad consequences his problem, not yours.

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I think a lot depends on how you tell your boss he or she is wrong. If your boss sends and email, don't do a reply all to tell him he is wrong. Reply only to your boss, and try your best to not make him look like an idiot.

Do the same thing in person. Don't correct your boss in front of others. Pull him aside and do it one on one. (This is really one of the secrets of life. It definitely applies outside the workplace!)

You should always try to protect your boss from doing something stupid. It can reflect badly on you if you don't.

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