When Not to Listen to Your Boss

Whether you love your boss or completely hate him, you know one thing for certain: You have to listen to him. He’s your superior, which means he usually has the final say on any of your work-related projects and decisions.

But, let’s face it—just because he’s your boss, doesn’t mean he automatically knows everything. There will still be times when you simply don’t agree with his choices or opinions. And, you’ve likely already run across plenty of instances when you wanted to completely tune out his supposedly sage advice (you may look like you’re listening, but he really just sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher in your head) and charge ahead with your own ideas anyway.

However, can you ever act on those fantasies of completely ignoring your boss’ instructions? Are there any times when it’s copacetic for you to go against his wishes and do your own thing? Or, do you always need to take his word as the be-all and end-all final answer?

A Word of Warning

First things first, a word of caution: In the vast majority of cases, it’s in your best interest to listen to your boss. Even if you disagree or think things could be done in a better, more efficient way, the respectful and professional thing to do is to heed your boss’ advice and follow his or her orders.

Nobody wants to foster a reputation as the employee who refuses to listen, bucks any authority, and disregards instructions. So, do your best to listen to your manager, unless the orders fit any one of these three circumstances.

You Don’t Have to Listen to Your Boss…

1. When It’s Unethical or Illegal

Alright, so if your boss asks you to go set the conference room on fire, that’s probably not advice you should follow without so much as a second thought. In these sorts of instances, you’ll want that tiny voice in your head to drown out whatever request your boss is making.

When your manager asks that you do something that’s illegal, unethical, or just plain makes you uneasy, it’s justifiable for you to either ask for additional details on the matter or turn it down completely.

Maybe she wants you to fire another employee on her behalf. Or, perhaps he’s pressuring you to release some information that you know is confidential. Whatever the circumstances, just remember this: If your boss’s orders give you that nauseous, butterflies in your stomach, queasy feeling of dread, it’s usually wiser to trust your conscience.

2. When You Haven’t Requested Clarification

Let’s assume that your boss gives you an instruction that you find somewhat confusing—or maybe even totally incorrect. Does that mean you need to charge ahead blindly without so much as a follow-up question?

Absolutely not. Asking for additional clarification on a matter you’re uncertain about doesn’t make you disrespectful. In fact, it makes you an intelligent and detail-oriented employee. Listening isn’t synonymous with silently obeying.

So, don’t feel as if you need to instantly ask, “How high?” whenever your boss says, “Jump!” You were brought into that role for a reason—and, sometimes that means forcing your boss to think about things from a different perspective or angle before you immediately take action on his various requests.

3. When You Receive Different Instructions From a Superior

Your boss tells you to complete a project one way. But, then you receive an email from your boss’s boss instructing you to move forward in a totally different way. What do you do? Who do you listen to?

This is another one of those scenarios when—instead of charging ahead with your boss’s demands immediately—you’re going to need to gather some additional information and intel.

If you’ve received conflicting instructions from two people who are senior to you, schedule a sit down or send out an email about the discrepancy. Point out their contradictory advice, and then ask which way you should move forward on your project.

If they blatantly disagree on the way it should be handled, that’s between the two of them to sort out. But, at least you did your part by opening up the conversation—without making the mistake of moving forward with the incorrect approach.

In most cases, it’s in your best interest to listen to your boss and follow his or her instructions. But, there are a few instances when you need to go against the grain and ignore what your boss is saying.

If you find yourself in one of the above three scenarios, then you have some ground to stand on when it comes to disregarding your manager’s instructions. But, any other time? Do yourself a favor and heed your superior’s advice. Trust me, that’s usually easier in the long run.

Written by

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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