So far my new job is going really well. I have days when I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing that I don’t even notice the hours ticking by. It’s a much better fit than my last position.

Anyway, I have a question for you. What’s the best way to handle an indecisive boss? I am very good at making decisions, and I don’t have any experience working with somebody who is so bad at it.  In addition, I have limited patience for people who constantly put off making decisions or change their minds 5 million times. Especially when it messes with my deadlines. At the same time, I’m new to this company and I don’t want to come across as bossy or bitchy. Do you have any ideas for ways I can speed up the process without stepping on any toes?

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3 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Here are some ways to deal with someone who can’t make a decision:

    1. Get out of the middle. Don’t feel responsible for missing deadlines when it’s not something you can control. You probably see early-on that you are going to miss the deadline because of your boss, so you can warn your boss of the implications of missing the deadline, and you can warn the stakeholder that your boss is not making a decision and will miss the deadline. Then your boss and the stakeholder can each make decisions about what to do about the missed deadline instead of you taking that responsibility.

    2. Send act now or never emails. You can send an email saying that you need a decision on x and if you do not receive a decision by that point, you will make it yourself. And then follow through with that. Give your boss one reminder. If you boss does not make a decision you don’t need to announce that you made the decision. Just make it and move on. Your boss will realize it sooner than later and you might find that your boss is relieved to be able to take no action and still have the project progress.

    3. Say no to second-guessing. You can simply say that it is too late to change their mind on the last decision because the project is moving forward. Tell your boss that a change at this point would kill everyone’s motivation to do the project well, and the boss will get bad results from poorly motivated performances. Don’t give your boss a chance. Say that the benefits of changing now do not outweigh the costs of killing morale so the answer is no.

    4. Ask for fewer decisions. There are probably a lot of time when you can see what the right answer is way before your boss can. So just do that. When your boss asks why you did it, don’t explain it as a decision. Explain it as the logical next step, so you took it because you are a logical person. You can’t do this every time, but you can do it a lot, and then your boss will have fewer decisions to make so more will actually get made.

    5. Understand your boss better. Your boss is not making decisions because your boss feels overwhelmed or incapable or scared. You should try to understand which of these three feelings is the root cause of indecision. Then you can help your boss come to a decision by addressing the probably irrational fear of choosing. Compassion will get you far in this situation.

    Good luck!


  2. Marie (INFP)
    Marie (INFP) says:

    One thing I would add that has helped me immensely is figuring out that my indecisive boss is an ENFJ. This means that he makes decisions by talking it out which is different process for an INFP. Usually by the time I come to him expecting a decision, I’ve already mulled it over in my head so I’m just asking for a confirmation of the decision I’ve already made and can get impatient when I don’t get it. So what I’ve learned is to help him talk through it when I come looking for a decision.

    I’ll ask questions like: What drawbacks do you see in doing this? What do you think are the positives of this step? And then we arrive at the moment where I have a better sense of what he wants to do and conclude with “I agree with you Larry, a good compromise here is to test this product in x market before rolling it out in the bigger y market. Alright, I’ll let marketing know.”

    This also has the added advantage of developing a certain intimacy with your boss where they begin to perceive you as the only person who understands them and helps them think clearly. Unlike everyone else who are exasperated by him.

  3. Cathy Goodwin
    Cathy Goodwin says:

    Marie has a great point. Sometimes a boss who seems indecisive just has a different operating style. Marie is smart to avoid pinning negative labels on her boss, but instead to figure out how to work with his style.

    I just question the need for the Myers-Briggs labels. Does she know her boss is an ENFJ? Can’t she just figure out that he likes to talk things through?

    Many of my successful clients know about to “read” bosses, colleagues and subordinates just by observing and asking questions. Some people like to get emails while others prefer phones or even face to face conversations.

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