A woman in business attire with arms folded looking askance at her colleague, embroiled in disagreement.
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How to disagree with your boss and not have it go horribly wrong

10 Apr 2019

Just because they’re your superior doesn’t mean they’re always right. Broaching a disagreement with your boss may be challenging, but it’s not impossible.

Your boss is your superior and often will also serve as a mentor. They can be a source of guidance and someone to go to for advice. Yet what do you do if you feel like they have misjudged a situation? Is it possible to disagree with your boss without it having negative ramifications for your career?

In an ideal world, yes. Bosses are human too and, as such, should recognise that they aren’t infallible. While unfortunately not every boss is necessarily a good boss, most people in managerial positions should be able to appreciate this. As an employee, you are more valuable as an independent thinker than you are as a mere ‘yes man’, so they should also appreciate that being able to dissent is a good trait.

You may still be anxious about the prospect of going against what your superior is saying. That’s completely understandable. You can use the following tips to ensure that this difficult conversation goes as smoothly as possible.

Timing is essential

You need to think about where and when you’re going to have this conversation. Is this something that would be better broached in a group setting such as a meeting? Would voicing your concerns in front of your peers cause embarrassment or would it help to make you seem less confrontational? You should weigh these possibilities up to determine the most optimal time to speak to your boss.

It also wouldn’t hurt to time this conversation based on the kind of mood they’re in. Do they seem especially stressed out? If so, you should probably hold off. On the other hand, if you’re hot on the heels of a great professional achievement, that’s likely the best time to bring something like this up. You’re likely to be more embedded in your boss’s good graces than ever and so can afford to absorb some possible friction.

Start on a good note

You don’t necessarily need to water down your opinions in order to maintain a deferential tone; you’re better off being direct. However, you should still endeavour to soften the blow when talking to a professional authority figure.

If you are disagreeing with an idea, start by highlighting what you liked about it. If you are critiquing how your boss handled something, begin by highlighting something you appreciate about your boss’s approach. You may feel a little bit like you’re sucking up, but this will help contextualise your remarks and make it clear you’re not trying to attack your boss.

Choose your language carefully

Avoid value judgements. Saying that your boss did something badly will go down like a lead balloon. Instead, try to frame your remarks as an opinion, and rely on previous experience or facts to back up your claim.

Instead of ‘I think this is a bad idea’, say ‘I feel like a different approach would be more successful based on x’, filling in your prior experience. This shows that your dissent comes from a rational place and not a spiteful or emotional one.

It’s also helpful to frame your remarks in terms of how they will benefit the company, as it will demonstrate your commitment to your professional environment. This will make it clear that you are not intending to disrespect your boss but that you just want to ensure your team succeeds.

Finally, peppering your views with questions will make it seem more like what you’re saying is a suggestion rather than a chastisement. For example: ‘I think it would be better to move this event to May. What do you think?’

Do not go over your boss’s head

There are limited occasions in which it may be necessary to go over your boss’s head. If your boss is committing a serious breach of conduct or if you’re victim of harassment stemming from your boss, for example, it is understandable that you may need to go higher up the chain.

Yet if you disagree with your boss and go to their superior to air your views, your boss will perceive that as a huge act of disrespect – and with good reason. If you disagree with your boss, you should take it to them first and give them a chance to tell their side of the story.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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