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Workplace Dynamics

When Your Boss Backs Out of Promises

Take these steps to encourage your boss to open the lines of communication.

Key points

  • Bosses who quietly back out of agreements do not place value on your working relationship.
  • Remember that it is the boss’s right to change her mind.
  • Remain professional and polite while sharing your dissatisfaction.
  • Offer constructive suggestions to ensure you are kept up to date when changes occur.
August de Richelieu / Pexels
Source: August de Richelieu / Pexels

Some people mean well at the time they promise to do something. Then, circumstances change, and they feel forced to retract or rescind. When a boss does this to a subordinate, it can feel quite overwhelming and unsettling, especially if the boss backs out of a promise, offer, or deal that leaves you twisting in the wind.

Bosses who backpedal may not mean harm; they simply never bother to tell you that they are unable to do what they promised. They shrug it off, expecting you to understand. It does not matter to them that you were inconvenienced or embarrassed by the unsettling emotional ride or that they may have caused you to take certain steps you would not have taken had you known they were going to toss your agreement overboard.

What You Are Thinking

She has done it to me again! She told me that I would be taking over when Barry leaves next month. So, I spent days researching and drawing plans and telling everybody about it. I had to learn through the grapevine that Barry’s unit is not included in the boss’s proposed budget. She did not even put up a fight to have it included. I’m so mad. I feel used, treated like an object with no regard for my feelings. The boss did not even provide an explanation for the lack of support. I have no respect for a boss who leads this way.

What She’s Thinking

Too bad about Jane. I miscalculated when I originally told her about making changes when Barry leaves. Putting those changes in my proposed budget now would open me up to criticism. I cannot stick my neck out like that. Jane will just have to accept that is the way things are in the real world.


Your goal is to avoid future emotional turmoil and wasted expenditure of your time and effort.

  1. Try to get a written commitment. Remember that unless you have an emailed confirmation or a signed official document, you cannot count on this boss to come through. Even then, the boss may look for wiggle room.
  2. Confront the boss calmly and professionally. Tactfully explain how you feel and that you expect to be notified of changes in the plan that affect you. If you want to be treated with respect, not as a pawn, you must insist the boss gives you this courtesy.

Tactical Talk

You: Boss, I’d like to talk to you about making those changes in Barry’s team that we discussed a couple of weeks ago.

Boss: Oh, yes, I’ve been meaning to get back to you.

You: I heard that you haven’t included money for that in your proposed budget.

Boss: Well, we ran into a little miscalculation. I’m afraid we cannot afford to move ahead with it at this time.

You: I must share that I am disappointed. First, I’m frustrated that these changes will not go into effect. But I’m also frustrated that I learned about this through office gossip instead of directly from you.

Boss: Yes, that was too bad. (No apology, though.)

You: For me to be productive and to feel respected, I need to know that in the future, I can depend on you to notify me if you change your mind about my assignments. I really appreciate it.

When you work for a boss who backs out of promises, take an I’ll-believe-it-when-I see-it attitude. They do not mean to be mean, but they are not going to let your feelings stand in their way.

Copyright© 2024 Amy Cooper Hakim

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