How to Deal with an Indecisive Manager

How to Deal with an Indecisive Manager

  • Friday February 28th, 2014
  • 9,533

University employment can be made stressful whenever your boss can’t seem to make up his or her mind. It can be frustrating because you always seem to be guessing as to what this manager wants, and may even be given conflicting instructions on completing certain tasks. As surprising as it may sound, you should know that most chairs, deans, executives and workplace managers in general come to hold managerial and supervisory positions without any formal education, training or background in management.  Needless to clarify, this doesn’t mean by any stretch that a formal managerial training is absolutely required to be a good manager.
So while most academics may have been brilliant in their faculty role, academic job or research position, they may have room to grow in regard to their managerial skills. Some personality habits may also cause otherwise potentially good executives to struggle with procrastination and efficient decision-making.

Your collaboration with these kinds of managers may be all the more difficult if you don’t have the resources and experience yourself to deal with these kinds of situation.

Take these steps to minimize the frustration, and you should find that things at your university job go much smoother as a result.

Be proactive
While you don’t want to appear to try to rob your supervisor of the prerogative of taking the initiatives and making the important decisions, you may subtly help them by understanding the main objectives, goals and projects that your school or centre is undertaking. You should proactively offer to help wherever you can. Your manager will appreciate it if you ask them how you could help make their job easier.
Offer to investigate the options for new projects and you could be steering that project on the path of efficiency and pre-emptively overcoming your boss’ indecisiveness, which might eventually undermine your achievements and hurt your own career at the university.


Prepare solution options before every meeting with your manager

Your communication style is key to your success with your manager. When seeking advice or presenting a problem, try to break each situation down into as simple terms as possible. After that, it can be helpful for you to have a proposed solution in mind before approaching your boss with it.
Try to make it so that he or she needs only give a yes or no response, if possible. If you do require more detailed instructions, do your best to simplify things so that there are as few steps to talk about as possible.

Confirm, confirm, confirm!

After receiving instructions from your supervisor, brief him or her back so that both of you agree as to what a particular decision was. This will make it easier to avoid miscommunication. You should strive to clarify everything to facilitate your work because it is your career, your employment with the university that is at stake. . When you feel uncomfortable about a proposed approach, you may even want to ask your boss again if he or she is certain this is what’s needed as well.

Give your supervisor an opportunity to tell you what’s expected up front, and find a way to get a clarification as a subtle way to get a confirmation to ensure a decision has been effectively made to proceed in that specific direction. Of course, the workplace like everything else in life is dynamic and subject to change. Your goal should be to get clarity so you can perform your duties successfully, but not to be inflexible and try to hold your boss up for changing a decision that was previously made.

What are our next steps on this project?

This question should be one of your best friends. You should never leave a meeting with an indecisive manager without documenting the next step action items and their timeline. This helps clarify any ambiguities. You also will know when an important decision is required from the manager and you may approach him/her if necessary.

In addition, a schedule of activities is a tacit agreement and commitment being made by your supervisor. It helps to remember that your manager may be so busy with so many issues competing for his/her attention that unfortunately some issues, like your project, could end up being pushed to the back burner.  Be proactive and help establish a clear schedule of activities that serve all of you.


The workplace is a complex game with many different players. Learning to understand and play that game, especially your interaction with your manager, is your first step to success.


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