Why Disagreeing With Your Boss (Sometimes) Is the Best Thing You Can Do

The greatest boss that I ever had invited disagreement with his decisions … up to a point. He actively sought out differing opinions and ideas, but at some point, it was his decision to make. Afterwards, it was up to us to make it come true. And this was back in 1978 before the “treat your employees like human beings” trend started. On the other hand, the worst boss I ever worked for had the “red eye death glare” thing going if you brought up anything wrong with any of his decisions, no matter how trivial they might have been. That was five years ago. You could say that disagreeing wasn’t in his managerial bag of tricks.

But here’s a secret … disagreeing with your boss might get you major brownie points at work. IF you disagree the right way, of course.

Most bosses depend on honest, educated feedback from the people around them. You may have different information than your boss has—your position puts you closer to the action. Past experience, a mistake or failure may give you a unique perspective.

You were hired because of your skills, and it’s important to find the best way to express yourself and share that knowledge. Pointing out that you “knew” something wasn’t going to work, after the fact, definitely won’t win you any points. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Prepare now for successful, well-received disagreement. Lay the groundwork by creating an honest, reliable track record so your boss will trust your insight and suggestions:

  • 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 your boss didn’t get to the position 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 your boss knows 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, find out why this particular choice was made. Getting to the root of your boss’s 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:

  1. Don’t confront in a meeting. Schedule a separate time to discuss.
  2. If your boss becomes defensive, pause and reassure him or her of your positive intentions
  3. Don’t use email to disagree
  4. Do NOT disagree with every little thing all the time
  5. Avoid having this discussion when you’re angry
  6. Stick to the facts—nothing personal

Finally, It’s okay if your ideas aren’t accepted all the time, but that’s OK. Use a respectful, thoughtful approach when disagreeing with your bossTo 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.

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