Clash of the titans: Managing multiple bosses

By Robert Half on 29 March 2015

What can you do when your bosses are unable to see eye to eye? Here’s how you can get around the situation.

When two managers come together for special projects, and they have differing views, troubling times are ahead. The problem is, they are both technically your bosses; you can’t follow one’s instructions without offending the other. Caught between a rock and a hard place, what can you do?

We’re not going to lie; the position you’re in is not an enviable one. Managing multiple bosses can really be a struggle. There’s a popular saying that employees quit bosses, not companies – and in your case, this adage certainly holds true. When two bosses fight for power, it creates a trickle-down effect and the ones who stand to lose are more often the employees. In fact, a recent Danish study found that workplace depression is closely linked to unfair treatment by the management rather than a heavy workload. While there isn’t a similar study done in Asia, results from a 2014 survey revealed that almost half of employees in Singapore are dissatisfied with their jobs, and that 75 percent of them view their jobs as merely a way to make a living. These results underscore the importance of improving and maintaining workplace satisfaction – and the onus is most certainly on the upper management.

Don’t worry, this isn’t to say warring bosses spell the end of your job (and your sanity). Play it right, and you wouldn’t be stuck in this conundrum for much longer.

First order of business: Don’t take sides

The rule of thumb is to never take sides. This means, no pandering to either boss’ ego, and no gossiping about them to your co-workers. Acknowledge both parties’ points of view while maintaining a neutral position – the last thing you want is get personally involved in the power struggle.

Be upfront about it

Schedule a meeting with the two senior players. Make it clear to them that at the end of the day, your department’s success only serves to reflect your company’s image, and that the conflicting messages you are receiving from them is hurting work productivity. Don’t bring your emotions into the meeting. Lay the facts on the table and highlight your intention – that you want them both to discuss and resolve the conflict in order to move forward.

It boils down to one common goal

At the end of the day, taking personal feuds and egos aside, the business objective is all that matters. Put that fact squarely and raise suggestions on how to possibly come to a common ground. In all practicality, the project will require a longer time as a result of their personal dissent and that will put a strain on resources on both sides. Good managers will know when to withdraw if they have hit a brick wall and your help as a mediator will greatly help to overcome the odds.

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