How to Disagree with the Boss

It’s a rare bird that actively seeks conflict. We all face it of course: butting heads with a buddy, an argument with a spouse, or another round with your mother-in-law. And while daily life is littered with potential spats, most of us have learned to gracefully steer clear of unwinnable, unimportant conversations.

But what happens when the disagreement involves something meaningful and your conversational counterpart is the boss? In such situations many employees are tempted to transform into “Yes-Men” cowering in the face of the corporate hierarchy. But the bended knee is not the only option. You can speak truth to power and possible persuade the higher ups to adopt your position by taking the following four steps.

  1. Make it Small: By discovering the source of the disagreement. Is it:
    1. Content based – the product, service, solution to an issue OR
    2. Context based – the selected approach or the style in which it is implemented

It’s important to know what really matters to both parties. For example, if you can live with the boss’s idea, but want more input on how it’s communicated, focus on that aspect of the difference. When you’re not clear, your manager might become defensive and believe that you are attacking him or her personally. When your objection is specific there is more neutral ground to embrace.

  1. Make it Big: Turn confrontation to collaboration. Sometimes people assume that if they disagree, they are on opposing sides. You and your manager are on the same team. Remind her of that and identify the real competitor. The offer a suggestion that will help you both win.
  2. Build a Business Case: Now that you’re on the same side, come with clear data points to support your idea. Examples from competitors, industry experts, and other neutral parties will be helpful.
  3. Nurture the Egos: No one like to “lose” an argument even if it improves the end result – so where you can, build on the original idea through crafty wording such as. I think this would get even better results if we approached it like this….

While obtaining a win-win is the optimal solution, you have to know your non-negotiable items. Make sure you understand the depth and long-term implications of the disagreement. Be sure to run from anything illegal or immoral and be smart enough to distance yourself from a real stinker idea. You can ask to be removed from a project. Remember, the boss is the boss, but it’s your career and reputation. Credibility is king. Nurture yours.

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