At least half of all working Americans spend more weekday hours interacting with their direct boss than with their spouse. Any time individuals spend that much time around one another, invested in a mutual goal—differences of opinion are bound to come up. Here’s how to disagree with your boss in a way that is productive and appropriate.
The most important thing to keep in mind when a disagreement arises and you feel the need to speak up, is that it’s important to do so respectfully. You wouldn’t want your boss to immediately ignore your perspective just because of their pride or ego. Here are a few steps that will make it easier to show respect as you share your thoughts:
Invest in the Relationship
You don’t need to be your boss’s best friend, but investing your time and energy to create a positive, comfortable rapport when the stakes are low will give you more leeway to speak openly when you disagree with a decision. If your boss knows and trusts you, he or she is less likely to interpret your dissent as disrespect.
Remember when you were a preteen, and your Mom implored you to “watch your tone?” The same goes for your boss. When it comes to disagreeing politely, often it’s not what you say, but how you say it that most affects the outcome.
Nonverbal communication plays a huge role here. Smile. Make eye contact. Aim to be friendly, earnest and helpful—never aggressive or condescending. Remember that you’re both on the same team. Your boss’s success is your success, and vice versa.
Ask for Permission
Something as simple as, “May I share my thoughts?” can work wonders to convey that you understand you’re a subordinate speaking to a superior. Asking for permission offers your boss the choice either to engage with your alternate point of view, or ask you to wait for a better time.
Unless your boss has one hand on the big red button, about to launch a metaphorical nuclear attack—there’s almost never a good reason to disagree outright with your superior in a public forum. That’s just disrespectful, and it undermines his or her position. If your boss makes a statement in a meeting that you don’t agree with, go to him or her privately after the meeting to share your concern. It can wait, and will almost always result in a more positive outcome if handled in private.
Know What You Don’t Know
Leave room, both in your own mind and in the conversation, for the possibility that your boss has different information than you. Maybe he or she knows from experience that a client likes having something done a certain way, even if it doesn’t make the most sense to you. Or perhaps your boss is facing outside pressures—likely from a client or superior—that are diluting his or her decision making in this area.
As an employee, you may have your hand on the pulse of day to day operations that your boss isn’t aware of—but the reverse can also be true. Understand and communicate that your opinion is obviously not the be-all and end-all, and be open to your boss’s reasoning.
Honor the Result
Congratulations! Upon disagreeing with your boss on a course of action, you now have the necessary tools to communicate your perspective in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to change your boss’s mind.
Your boss might hear your thoughts, have a magical Oprah “Aha” moment as to the error of his ways, and instantly change direction.
Or, maybe not.
He or she may also hear you out and then go right along doing what she was going to do anyway, with or without explaining herself to you. And in reality, that’s her prerogative. She’s the boss.
If the decision is a deal breaker for your continuing to work with the company, that’s a difficult choice you’ll need to make. Otherwise, accept your boss’s decision and let it go. Maybe one day you’ll be the boss, and you can make your own bad decisions.
We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for how you disagree with your boss. Share them in the comments!