How to disagree with your boss and not get fired

by | Jun 28, 2015


Do you disagree with your boss? What happens?

Strong leaders with vision, don't want to be surrounded by "yes" men and women. They want disruptive thinkers that challenge them and the system. [Tweet " But they do want the organization to benefit."]  Most bosses, although they rarely say this, would also be happy if the outcome makes them look good too.

What they don't want, is to be bombarded by show boaters who grandstand for no obvious gain, other than hearing the sound of their own voices, or only wanting personal advancement. So if you dissent with the goals of your boss and organization in mind, your disruption will usually be welcome.

Clarity and certainty

[Tweet "So first of all you need to have clarity and certainty around your intent for disagreeing."] We’re all going to disagree with our bosses from time to time, and when this takes place, the best thing to do is listen. Your first instinct might be to speak out and up, but in this case, attentive listening is the best and wisest course of action. The adage of asking the right questions to get the right answers, plays well in this scenario.

[Tweet "What are your bosses' goals and purpose? "]

So if you do disagree, by understanding these points,  you will be doing so from a solid, well thought out base. This will always be well received and perceived to be more respectful.

A good idea in the early stage of the boss/report relationship is to set the scene for disagreement. Maybe even ask how he/she likes to handle dissent at a point when there is none. [Tweet "The onboarding process is frequently a good time do that."] You can always use that conversation as a point of reference to defuse a potentially tense situation. Some bosses can confuse disagreement with disrespect.

If you need help dealing with situational communication issues check out the 3Plus coaching programs for individuals

Come with a solution

Some years ago I had a young, talented team member who seemed to rail against everything I proposed, but was never really coming up with alternative ideas. Eventually we had something of  a show down. His negativity was also impacting the team. I decided to give him his own project to head up. It was a risk.  When he saw what it was actually like to be a leader and manager, he changed his tune! So giving someone the opportunity to own the outcome and being solution, or alternative driven, is hugely beneficial to their learning curve. When they are in that place, they will become major engaged contributors who will motivate the rest of the team.

There could indeed be times when any differences are too great, perhaps creatively or strategically. Here the best course of action may be to agree to disagree. If the gap is un-bridgeable, the only other route is to move on.

[Tweet "But don't think this is just about the boss. It's about you too! "]

This is usually an indicator of lack or research before and during the recruitment process. Interviewing is a two-way street and if you ask the right questions it's usually possible to get a good feel for the corporate culture and the boss's management and communication style.

There are many tells in the process. If they are not obvious pose the question "What sort of  input do (can) your team make strategically to ....? " If the response is "Strategy is defined at board level" you have your answer. If there is a caveat "but we have monthly open team brainstorming sessions" that adds another element.

So never be afraid to disagree with your boss. But make sure you understand what she wants to achieve.

Chameleon bosses

Of course circumstances arise when the boss has been a chameleon and shows her true colours further down the line with her own personal and political agenda. There could issues of ego, defensiveness, bullying and plain old Machiavellian conniving and positioning.

In these cases  you really do need to change your boss. But that's a different post!

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