How To Respectfully Disagree With Your Boss

05 November 2020

Blog Respectfully Disagree With Your Boss

You know that moment all too well—your boss hands down a directive and your stomach sinks. You fundamentally disagree with the decisions that have been made and are now faced with a dilemma. Make it known that you disagree or carry through as directed. Which will you choose? Will you speak up, or will you let it slide?


What if there didn't have to be one way or the other? What if you had the tools to disagree with your boss in ways that could solve you a world of pain and even strengthen the relationship? We've put together a guide to help you navigate the often rocky waters of disagreeing with your boss. How do you approach it? What do you say? What should you never, ever say? It's all right here.


Nurture the relationship 

It's far easier to disagree with your boss respectfully if you have a solid foundation to build on. A fragile, rocky relationship is never going to be a good place to start, so find ways to interact positively as opportunities arise. You don't have to go overboard, be a crawler or get buddy-buddy, but making an effort will go a long way.  


Take a genuine interest in them as a person, ask about their weekend, their family and their hobbies to establish common ground. You will likely spend a substantial amount of your week together so find ways to enjoy each other's company at work - which will stand you in good stead should you wish to challenge their decisions down the track. 


Don't act in the heat of the moment

Your boss may have just made the most bizarre decision the company's ever seen, but you really have to think carefully about how you react to it, and when and where to address it. Telling your supervisor their idea is awful in front of a whole crew of workmates won't help your cause. In fact, you've probably just made the boss look like a fool while also demonstrating a complete lack of respect for the chain of command.  


If you feel yourself getting hot under the collar, take some time to consider why this decision is really getting under your skin. Think it over rationally and approach a conversation when cooler heads prevail. 


Make sure you have your facts straight

There's nothing quite like challenging a decision or directive only to discover that you didn't have the whole story. So, while you may feel you have a strong reason to disagree with the boss, first make sure you're on solid ground.  


Consider the possibility you may not have access to the information that your boss does. Likewise, it may be that your boss doesn't have access to the same information as you. They may appreciate this new information which could potentially deliver better outcomes and strengthen your relationship. 


Be part of the solution

Going to your boss complaining about their decisions or the way they do things without a solution is a sure-fire way to be labelled a whinger, troublemaker or naysayer. The last thing any boss wants is to agonise over a decision, deliver it to the team and hear the whispers of dissension and feel the negativity as they walk away. 


Many bosses' welcome alternative solutions, especially if they have been well thought-through, are for the greater good and could deliver better outcomes. So, find the solution, and if you can't find one, get on with the job without complaint. 


Pick your timing

If your boss is casual and approachable, then sharing your point-of-view the same way may be your best bet. Pick a time when your boss is relaxed and happy and raise the subject of the issue casually. 

If your boss is more hierarchical and prefers formality, then schedule a meeting. Perhaps give them a little bit of information beforehand, so they don't feel caught unawares.


Approach with respect 

Let them know that you will always respect their decision and only want what's best for the company and team. Try asking if you can share an alternative option. The act of asking helps them feel more in control and likely to be more open-minded. 


Be open-minded

In every business, very little is black or white. You're often dealing in areas of grey. So, when you think the boss is 100% in the wrong, and you're 100% correct, you are leaving no room for discussion or compromise. You must not come at the disagreement with "it's my way or the highway." If you do, chances are, you'll be on that highway sooner rather than later. 


Stick to business

The difference of opinion you have with your boss should not include any personal gripes you have about each other. It may well be that you cannot stand each other and would never grab a beer after work. But if you're both professional, that won't enter the equation. 


Don't just talk - listen

You'll hear this advice from marriage guidance counsellors, psychologists, preschool teachers, and even hostage negotiators! You can often make greater advances if you stop talking and start actively listening. That doesn't mean mindlessly nodding your head until it's your turn to speak. Take the time to sit down with the boss and say "help me understand what's on your mind and how you arrived at your decision."


Ask open questions, be present and provide meaningful responses. You will be amazed at how much really listening to someone can help a situation. 


Consider a joint solution

Once you can get agreement that you're both playing on the same team, it's a lot easier to start talking about the best ways to achieve specific goals. A recent study from the Harvard Business Review showed that in a situation when you want A and the boss or co-worker wants B, the best solution isn't to choose either of them. Instead, create C, which in this case stands for compromise. If you can both agree it's best for the company, you both win.


Know when to call it quits

At the end of the day, if you've tried all of the above and you've made little-to-no progress, you need to figure out if this battle is worth the war. Do you want to go another round that will probably antagonise your boss? Do you have anything new to bring to the discussion, and if you do, is it going to sway the decision or opinion? If not, then walk away. 


Don't think of it as losing or giving up. You fought the battle and did enough to know you tried. If you have not been disrespectful, the boss will have appreciated your honesty. 


It may seem like you have a daunting task ahead of you, but remember your boss is a person, just like you. While it's important to stay respectful, you don't need to fear them or put them on a pedestal. You can disagree and still work things out. Good luck, and keep your head held high. 


Summary

  • Work on nurturing the relationship with the boss to ensure a solid foundation. 

  • Don't act in the heat of the moment; take some time to gather your thoughts. 

  • Avoid bad-mouthing the boss in front of the crew. It is unprofessional and makes you look bad. 

  • Make sure your argument's on solid ground. Do some digging to get all the facts. 

  • Be part of the solution, not a contribution to a problem. 

  • Pick your timing and approach.

  • Consider asking if they are open to an alternative. Give back the power. 

  • Remember, business is never black or white, so don't insist you are 100% correct.

  • Don't make it personal; stick to the issues. 

  • Work on becoming a good listener. It can help when resolving problems.

  • Know when to call it quits.

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Sources

https://www.fastcompany.com/3042153/10-steps-to-keep-calm-and-carry-on

https://hbr.org/2010/05/the-right-way-to-fight.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-balance/201610/are-you-really-listening-or-just-waiting-talk

https://hr.berkeley.edu/development/career-development/career-management/relationship-building/managing-up