Work Relationships

How to work with an indecisive boss

indecisive man standing at a crossroads
Written by Eric Titner

There’s an unspoken truth in the world of work—although we usually get to pick our jobs we don’t get to pick our bosses. If we’re lucky, we get to work with the sort of boss whose a pleasure to be around—fair, pleasant, supportive, decisive, and encouraging. If this is your reality, then count your blessings and try to appreciate your situation. However, if you have a boss who’s something else, then it can pose some real challenges.

One category of tricky boss includes the one who never seems to know what he or she wants. They either constantly waste time dragging their heels and delaying making any type of clear decision, or they’re forever changing what they tell you to do. Both of these types can be quite difficult to work with and can really impact your ability to perform your job effectively. But it’s not exactly easy to confront a boss who never seems to know what they want—so what do you do when you’re in this position?

Learn your boss’s quirks

Try your best to get to know your boss—including their decision-making behaviors and habits—as well as you possibly can over time. Although it can be tricky to expect the unexpected, as you get to know your boss more you may get better at anticipating how they’ll react to any given project or during any key decision-making moment, which may help minimize the ill-effects of their indecisive nature.

Stay calm and kind, even when you want to scream

Your best bet is to remain patient and do your best to anticipate your boss’s needs—and shifts—and try to work with them, not against them. First off, an indecisive boss is usually an anxious person by nature, and adding to their anxiety by developing an adversarial relationship with them will only serve to make matters worse. With the way many workplaces are structured, the fact is that you have to answer to your boss’s professional whims, as fickle as they may be. Once you know your boss operates this way, brace yourself and expect it. Knowing the madness is coming makes is a little easier to swallow.

When you find yourself at a crucial point that requires a final decision from your boss, try and make the moment as stress free as possible. Also, do your best to reduce any external distractions that may make it challenging for your boss to concentrate and focus on the decision at hand. If it’s your job to present your boss with information so they can make a decision, be as clear and straightforward as possible. Always try to approach your boss in a calm and patient manner when a decision needs to be made—this will help put them in their best mindset to determine what they want at any given time.

Keep a paper trail

Although these strategies may prove helpful in a variety of decision-making moments, chances are it won’t completely fix the problem. The truth is, it’s hard for a leopard to change its spots. A boss who doesn’t know what they want will likely remain this way—it’s just human nature to revert to your “core programming” and making lasting change is hard. That said, it would be helpful for you to get things from your boss in writing, so if they change their mind later on they can’t hold you accountable if projects go over budget and off schedule. Physical proof is always a good way to minimize the effects of their indecisiveness on your productivity and work reputation.

A boss who never seems to be able to make up their mind and determine what they want when a decision needs to be made can be a challenging situation for you, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle. Use the strategies and advice provided here to make the best of a tough situation, and hopefully with a little time, experience, and luck, things will get better (or your next boss will know what they want and when they want it).

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.