Disagree with Your Boss
Lots of bosses (and other authority figures) feel like their employees don’t tell them the truth, and lots of employees feel like they can’t tell their boss the truth. If you’re an employee, there are a few tactics you can take to politely and respectfully tell your boss you disagree with them without putting your job or your reputation in danger.
Discussing a Point of Disagreement with Your Boss
- Get others on your team. See if your idea is popular with other employees, and if so, you can respectfully make that known to your boss. Don’t make the boss feel ganged up on, but let them know that there is popular support for your idea.
- Do say: “A few of the other people in my department have also expressed concerns about...”
- Don’t say: “Everyone else in my department thinks your idea will be a disaster, and they would rather...”
- Know your boss’s personality. Are they persuaded by hard data, or are they more likely to respond to personal, relatable anecdotes? Communicate with your boss in a way they are more likely to relate to.
- Come prepared with charts and graphs if they’re a numbers person.
- Anticipate your boss’s objections to your argument, and try to have a relatable anecdote up your sleeve for each objection if they’re more persuaded by personal stories than numbers.
- Understand where your boss is coming from. Assuming that your boss is an intelligent, well-meaning person, they are probably not setting out to cause harm to you, other employees, or your company. Try to think about what you know about your boss’s personal and professional life. Is there anything there that might be leading them to make this decision? Can you relate to them on the level they’re coming from?
- Ask trusted colleagues who are more familiar with your boss if they have any insight.
- Also remember that your boss is likely in a position of power because they have experience or expertise.
- Start with common ground. There will likely be some part of your boss’s idea that you agree with. Begin by discussing that aspect of the plan, and then move the conversation toward the part of their idea that you disagree with.
- Do say: “I really like what you said about ... and I think that we could make that idea even better if we...”
- Don’t say: “The only thing I agree with you on is...”
- Discuss your intentions. Sometimes when a boss gets angry at an employee for disagreeing with them, it’s because they feel threatened or like their employee is arguing just for the sake of arguing. Let your boss know up front that your intentions are for the betterment of the company, and that you aren’t trying to undermine them, get out of doing work, or hurt the company in any way.
- Do say: “I think that we could provide better customer service to our clients by...”
- Don’t say, “I could get out of here a lot sooner every day if...”
- Be respectful. Make it clear from the very beginning of the conversation that you respect their ideas and their leadership. Remember that you can be perfectly honest while still showing respect.
- Avoid a confrontational tone.
- At the same time, don’t hedge a lot or apologize too much. Your boss won’t take you seriously.
- Make an argument, but don’t argue. The difference here is very subtle. Don’t be argumentative, attack other people’s views, or complain. Instead, spend your energy on making clear, concise points. Explain the logic behind your point of view, but don’t denigrate your boss’s point of view or anyone else’s.
- Be cautiously passionate. Make it clear that you care about this topic, and your boss will be more likely to listen. On the other hand, avoid excessive emotion -- no crying or yelling. Stick with confident, calm speech.
- Back down when you’ve lost. If your boss isn’t going to budge, it’s time to throw in the towel. Graciously tell your boss that you respect their decision, and move on. Make sure they know that you still support and respect them.
Choosing When to Disagree with Your Boss
- Disagree for the right reason. Really examine your motives behind bringing up your disagreement. If any part of you is disagreeing in order to try to gain power or authority, you might want to reconsider. Be sure that your disagreement will truly add something valuable to the conversation.
- Pick your battles. Chances are good that you will disagree with your boss many times throughout your professional relationship. Disagreeing over the placement of the new printer probably isn’t worth your time, but a conversation about saving the company lots of money on printers might be a battle worth fighting.
- Time your disagreement well. Don't wait until your boss is about to go into a meeting or leave for the day to tell them your thoughts. Pick a time of day when you know they are less likely to be stressed out. Particularly if you work for a large company, think about scheduling a meeting to talk.
Preparing for Future Disagreements with Your Boss
- Be a good employee. Your boss is much more likely to listen to you if you have established a reputation as a valuable employee. Meet your deadlines, show up on time, and produce quality work. Do extra work once in awhile. Show that you’re a team player.
- Know your stuff. If you have an opinion but don’t have any facts to back it up, this is not the time to disagree with your boss. You will appear lazy and perhaps even ignorant, and that’s never a good way to look in front of your boss. Prepare for future arguments by learning as much as possible about your company and the way it runs.
- Have a plan in place. Studies have shown that, long before it’s time to tell your boss you disagree with them, it’s best to have a conversation with your boss about how you will both manage emotions when you disagree. Asking your boss how they would like to be treated and letting them know the same about you will go a long way toward smoothing things out later.
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- Liberal use of "we" is helpful, but don't overdo it. If something is clearly your opinion, use "I".
- The goal is to make the person reach the same conclusion on their own. Don't expect this to happen immediately - give it some time.
- No matter what, never try to prove that you are better than the boss.
- Remember, ultimately they are the boss. If you are specifically told to do or not do something a certain way then you should respect the authority. You never know where they are getting their cues or what demands upper management could be making of them.
- If you must implement the idea anyway, work your hardest to make it succeed. No one was ever hired to make their boss look bad! If it works, you're a hero for working hard; if it doesn't, no one can blame you for not trying.
- Win Informal Arguments and Debates
- Lose Your Fear of Being Fired
- Deal with Being Fired
- Get a Summer Job in Glacier National Park
- Defend Yourself Against a Bad Boss
Sources and Citations
What links here
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