Your boss has a really good idea — at least she thinks so — and you hate it. Awkward, isn’t it?
But how do you disagree with your boss?
On one hand, you owe it to your company to point out the problems. On the other hand, you don’t want to hurt a good relationship.
Fortunately, you can disagree with the boss — or anyone — when necessary and still maintain the relationship. Even better, you can accomplish goals.
A disagreement worth having?
“Now is the perfect moment to focus on the skills we need to navigate the often tricky terrain of getting along with others,” says Amy Gallo, in her book Getting Along.
In most instances, it’s important to respectfully disagree with your boss (or colleague) when a greater good can be accomplished — perhaps your point of view can improve quality, creativity or revenue. Or perhaps your point of view is incorrect, and there’s something for you to learn.
Gallo, who is also the cohost of HBR’s Women at Work podcast, offers these six proven strategies to disagree with your boss (or colleague or friend) and maintain a great relationship.
1. Think about it
Don’t just blurt out your point of view. It may seem timely to say it right now. But a well-thought opinion is almost always a better argument than a timely one.
Be strategic. Think it through by asking yourself:
- Why do I disagree?
- Could the disagreement be perceived as “political?”
- Do I have the good of the organization (project, group) at heart of the disagreement?
Ideally, you don’t have any personal gain from winning the argument.
2. Get it right
Follow this rule I was taught decades ago when I was crime reporter for a wire service: Get it first. But get it right first.
In other words, get your facts straight before you broach the subject. And recognize that your boss may have access to more information than you do.
If you even suspect you’re missing something, couch your argument by saying something like, “I think there’s another way to look at this. Before I present my ideas, can you tell me of any other critical facts I don’t know?”
3. Test your idea
Bounce your point of view — including the facts you know — off a few trusted colleagues. If you can’t convince them it’s a better idea, you probably won’t be able to convince your boss.
So get feedback on your idea and on ways to be more persuasive. Encourage them to poke holes in your theory and ask questions they think any executive would have.
And don’t ask your direct reports to chime in. They may not want to disagree with you and likely won’t give the candid feedback you need.
4. Offer an expert
Get a respected, credible expert to go over your conclusions before you take your idea to the boss. Then offer to have him or her review it with your boss after you present it.
It doesn’t have to be an outside consultant. It should be a person recognized within your company or among your mutual network as an expert on the topic.
Pull together data, charts, spreadsheets and any other hard evidence you can to support your point of view. Leave out hypotheticals and anecdotes.
Disagreeing with a boss is time for a businesslike approach.
6. Call on a buddy
People trust their friends, particularly those who are at the same level as them.
Find someone who is your boss’ friend and at the same level as your boss, and use your data to convince him or her of the merit behind your idea. Ask him or her to back your idea.
That’s not to suggest you gang up on your boss. You just want to find genuine support from someone who can address it in a friendly manner, too.