How to Disagree With Your Boss and Thrive

10 Tips to Effective Disagreement in a Boss Relationship

Taylor Callery / Ikon Images / Getty Images

It’s not career suicide to disagree with your boss. In fact, managers who are confident in their own skills and position, want employees who will disagree. With disagreement comes better ideas, solved problems, positive relationships, better products for your customers, and personal growth and development.

Disagreeing with the boss is easier if your organization’s work culture supports divergent opinions and points of view.

Involved, engaged employees are encouraged to offer opinions and ideas in cultures that appreciate and want to take advantage of the talents, skills, education, and experience of their employees.

Bosses are human, too. They have their particular management style that ranges in various bosses from dictatorial to so hands off that they are out-of-touch. So know your boss and his or her leadership style to assess how much disagreement will be appreciated and tolerated.

How you approach disagreement is critical when you want to disagree with your boss. A respectful, thoughtful approach will always trump an aggressive, demanding approach to the discussion. Having facts available that are convincing is helpful.

Researching the area of disagreement, benchmarking the practices of other companies, and talking with your industry contacts about noncompetitive best practices will bring the necessary verification to support your opinion.

What happens if you have done your best job of disagreeing with the decision or direction and the boss decides to stay on the current path or rejects your solution? You tell the boss that while you disagree, you will implement the project as he or she has decided. The boss has the decision-making authority, and you will know the point at which it becomes not okay to disagree further.

Especially when the decision involves serious business issues that might require disruptive change management strategies, financial commitments, and emotional energy from employees, your opinion needs facts to support it.

Your boss is not going to agree unless you present significant data, benchmarking or industry knowledge to support your plan. Employees can experience change weariness and become disenchanted when they don't see the benefits of change.

With all of this in mind, you can take particular actions and build relationships in advance of disagreement. Here are ten recommendations that will make disagreeing with the boss easier, safer, and more likely to have an impact on the situation.

Take 10 Key Actions to Prepare in Advance to Disagree

Here is the key action that employees I've known have done right when they have successfully disagreed with their boss.

  • They built the relationship first. Thus, when they disagreed, they had a good relationship to start.​
  • They had a record of success and made the boss look good. The boss had some faith that their recommendations would work out because of positive experiences in the past.​
  • They had a history of practicing personal courage. They could be depended on to speak out for the good of the business, to disagree when they really thought they were of course, not just to disagree.​
  • They exhibited a commitment to the overall success of the business, not just to their personal aggrandizement, fiefdoms, or career promotion. They avoided making recommendations that helped one component or department of the business but were suboptimal for others or the whole.​
  • They were straightforward and didn’t play games. Even if they sought allies to agree with their position, they were upfront about it.​
  • They didn’t make the boss feel like an idiot. None of the disagreement was aimed personally with any name calling, sarcasm, or disparagement. It came across as logically approaching the problem, in the best interests of the team. They started the discussion by identifying their areas of agreement.​
  • They used the boss as a mentor. No matter how much they disagreed with the boss, he or she still did something right to be in the position of manager and boss. They asked themselves what they could learn and sought time with the boss discussing issues and approaches.​
  • Their business ethics and relationships were above reproach. They were people the boss could comfortably back, support, and get behind.​
  • They didn’t go around the boss to his or her boss to plead their case. The boss wasn’t blind-sided by his boss and the reporting employee who disagreed. Nor was he or she surprised at the position the individual was taking by hearing about it for the first time in an audience of fellow managers and executives.​
  • They were good communicators who could express themselves convincingly with evidence and rationale for their case. They knew that “I think” or “I feel” was not enough to affect the critical direction. They needed to present data and facts. They needed to have demonstrated that they had researched their solution thoroughly, including benchmarking other similar companies in their industry.

Use these tips to prepare for the day—and it will come if you are a good employee, the kind of employee that most bosses want—when you want to or need to disagree with your boss. Be ready to disagree in order to build a powerfully effective relationship with your boss.