Disagreeing With Your Boss The Right Way


May 12, 2017

You’re in a meeting with your supervisor and he suggests something you know is infeasible.

Or perhaps your department head sends instructions for performing a task you’ve already scouted out and know there’s a more efficient way to accomplish things and still stay on budget.

Whatever the situation may be, at some point or another in your career, you’re going to disagree with someone more powerful than you. So what do you do when this situation comes?

It might be logical to toss your ideas aside, get in line and do what your superior believes needs to be done. That may not be the best idea.

There are certain circumstances where you must put your fears aside and speak up. What happens if the issue is going to cause problems by going significantly over budget? What if the project will obviously blow up in your team’s face at some point during the process, or worse, after delivery to the customer?

However, before you go charging into your manager’s office, take some time to evaluate your argument and consider these practical tips from Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work.

Contemplate Your Opinion and Approach

So, you know how to do something better than your boss does. Great!

Don’t assume that your insight into the issue is more valuable than your superior’s insight, and don’t automatically write off their approach.

When you have an opportunity to speak to your supervisor, carefully lay out your disagreement and alternative approach.

Use figures, examples or hypothetical scenarios that support your argument.

Frame the Conversation

Don’t get cocky about your argument and believe in your idea alone.

Often, disagreements are a great inroad to compromises that work better than any one idea alone would.

Before you even open your mouth, ask some probing questions about the issue at hand and listen to your superior’s perspective.

Then, before you insert your differing viewpoint, ask whether it’s okay for you to share an idea that contradicts the one to which your boss adheres. Getting his or her verbal buy-in will help the ensuing conversation to go much more smoothly.

Body Language and Speech

Your body language speaks volumes before you even finish crossing the threshold to your boss’s office.

Don’t walk in with your arms crossed and appear unwilling to listen. Nor should you walk in like you own the place.

Conversely, if you’re nervous, fake confidence in your stride and posture to let your boss know you mean business and believe in the proposal you’re about to put forth.

It can be intimidating to have a disagreement with a superior, but you don’t want to erode your position before you even open your mouth. Don’t tap your feet or physically shrink away from the conflict.

The way you speak, too, can belie your confidence. Focus on speaking in measured tones, placing enough emphasis on your words and keeping your volume level in check. People tend to raise the pitch of their voice and speak too quickly when they’re nervous, so try your best to control these tendencies.

Again, if you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum and feeling particularly angry or agitated about the situation, take care to control the tone of your voice. Measure your words and keep your voice down. Raising your voice and using poor word choices can escalate the situation, and that may have many negative effects on your conversation.

Think Through the Consequences

Think through the ways that the conversation could go, and try to come up with a defense for the best parts of your argument.

Similarly, think about what might happen if you don’t address the issue. Will your boss’s method of handling the situation cause your team to implode? Is the company’s reputation at stake? Are there significant financial ramifications to doing it your boss’s way, rather than another way?

There may be conversations that you can sit out of because not all disagreements need to be voiced. Learn to pick your battles carefully.

However, if you see that you have a solution that could save your team or your company from running into a serious problem down the road, you need to address it. Most reasonable managers will see the logic behind a better solution and shouldn’t let their pride get in the way of considering a new approach.

  About The Author  

Michelle has years of experience as a multi-lingual lecturer/trainer and has worked with clients such as Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa, Comfort Transportation and Nanyang Technological University. She has attained an impressive array of academic qualifications, including a Master of Science in Industrial Psychology and Management, Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, Professional Diploma for Teachers and Trainers, Associate Degree in Japanese Linguistics & Culture, and a Diploma in Mass Communication.

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