How to Disagree With Your Boss Without Getting Fired
It’s easy to disagree with your boss. What’s tricky is disagreeing without hurting your relationship.
As your knowledge and experience grow, there comes a time when you feel your idea or approach to a situation might be better than your bosses. Or you may find yourself in a position of defending your course of action — justifying the decisions you’re making.
Most bosses depend on honest, educated feedback. You may have different information than your boss has — your position puts you closer to the action. Or your background may give you a unique perspective — a past failure or two may have enlightened you. You were hired because of these skills, and it’s important to find the best way to express yourself and share that knowledge.
If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance for successful disagreement. Sounds funny – how could you prepare if you don’t know what your disagreement will be about? Early preparation is more general.
- Develop a record of success at work. This shows that you’re making strong decisions and can be trusted to continue. A side benefit: If you look good, your boss usually looks good too.
- Make sure your business dealings are ethical. Admit your mistakes. Build a history of making recommendations that are in the best interests of the entire company, not just yourself or your department.
- Build a strong relationship with your boss. Take the opportunity to learn from the things your boss is doing right. Chances are they didn’t get to the position they’re in by accident. Working around your boss to get something done probably won’t help your case.
- Have a conversation about how to disagree. Having this talk when the stakes are low and everyone is calm will give you a reference point for later. “There will probably be times when you and I don’t agree on something. What’s the best way for me to approach you to discuss this?”
Now, you’re ready to disagree.
Establish Common Ground and Intent
First, it is vital that you let your boss know that you understand and are committed to his or her interests. If you are working from this agreed upon mutual purpose, it will help clarify that your intent is only to do the best job possible. To ensure that you fully understand his or her viewpoint, get clarification by asking some open-ended probing questions. “I wanted to learn more about the new direction we’re taking….” This also gives your boss the floor and some control. Next, try to find out why this particular choice was made. Getting to the root of your boss’ perspective may give you some insight into the “why” part of the equation. It may also reveal that you don’t have all the facts.
Show Respect and a Fact-Based Alternative
Now that you’ve gotten clarification, ask if there’s an opportunity to come up with another solution. Unless your questions revealed nothing new, you might want to schedule and present your solution in a follow-up meeting. Begin by reassuring your boss that you respect his or her position. Then present your solution supported by facts. Do some research. Find benchmarks. If you have industry knowledge or connections, tap into these to support your position.
6 additional tips:
- Don’t confront in a meeting. Schedule a separate time to discuss.
- If your boss becomes defensive, pause and reassure him or her of your positive intentions.
- Don’t use email to disagree.
- Don’t disagree with every little thing all the time.
- Don’t have this discussion when you’re angry.
- Stick to the facts – nothing personal.
Finally, recognize that your ideas might not be accepted. Use a respectful, thoughtful approach when disagreeing with your boss to get your ideas heard. Having facts to support your position adds weight to your view. Speaking up thoughtfully will help solve problems by using rational, mature conversations. But ultimately, your boss has the final say.