How to Disagree with Your Boss Constructively

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Disagreeing with your boss can be distressing. Bosses exert a certain degree of control over our workdays: our pay rate, schedule, position, and responsibilities. Even if your manager or leadership team is great and doesn’t abuse that power, you might cringe at the idea of expressing opposing opinions.

Honest question: Instead of asking yourself how to disagree with your boss, do you sometimes decide to just complain to your co-workers? That’s not uncommon, but it doesn’t really help you. There’s almost always a way to get a listening ear and fix the problems affecting you.

What to Do When You Disagree with Your Boss

1) Select an appropriate time and place to talk. Choose a time when you can talk in private and without interruption. Don’t decide to bring up grievances during the most hectic time of the day or before a big meeting. Avoid hashing out the issue while either of you is upset. Finally, always avoid confronting your boss in the presence of clients.

2) Don’t blindside your boss. Barging in abruptly or going over your boss’s head is not going to help you make your case. Instead, summarize the problem and ask to schedule a time to discuss it further.

3) Prepare for the discussion. You may want to rehearse what you plan to say before the meeting. Jot down some notes, including any data that might bolster your case. If possible, use relevant experiences or scenarios to better illustrate your point. Review your notes aloud (alone or with a neutral party), but avoid discussing the issue with co-workers or clients.

4) Speak calmly and respectfully. Your boss will be more receptive if you come across in a collaborative or conciliatory way, rather than behaving arrogantly or aggressively.

5) Avoid being accusatory. Frame your message in a positive way, focusing on how you feel about the issue or behavior. Make sure you also suggest possible resolutions.

6) Consider your boss’s perspective. It’s likely that you both have some valid points. Ask questions to gain insight about why your boss disagrees with you.

7) Talk about common ground. Start the conversation with a statement you both can agree upon, like caring about the health of your business. For example: “I realize that this Saturday’s four-hour customer service training is important, and I appreciate the chance to learn something new, but I have plans with my family that I made weeks ago. I’m worried that requiring everyone to attend on short notice is going to affect morale. Is there any way we could break it into one-hour sessions and complete it throughout next week?”

8) Break away and cool down. If the discussion becomes too intense, with raised voices or inappropriate remarks, suggest taking a few minutes away from the conversation. (If you were the guilty party, offer a sincere apology for the breach of professionalism.)

When Should You Disagree with Your Boss?

There are times when speaking up to your boss is essential. For example, maybe you’re sure that the company is on the verge of losing an important client due to an outdated policy. Maybe there’s an overlooked safety hazard. These types of situations call for action.

What about personal issues? You requested to leave early to take your son to his soccer tournament, but your boss doesn’t want to be flexible. Your boss harshly criticized you in front of colleagues. Should you address these issues or let them go?

If the issue is important to you—whether it’s business-related or personal—attempting to resolve it is usually the best option for both you and your boss. Avoidance is likely to leave you feeling frustrated or resentful, which can negatively affect your work performance. That’s why knowing how to disagree with your boss constructively is so important.

Good Leaders Listen

The good news is that most people realize they are not always right. They understand that there are different perspectives, and they are usually willing to listen to other points of view. If you are addressing a business issue, your boss may even appreciate your observation, and he/she will likely see you as someone who takes initiative to tackle problems. Ultimately, expressing an opposing view respectfully may even strengthen your relationship with your leadership.

Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, compromise or consensus may not be reached. If you have tried to explain the situation but your boss remains unmoved, you must decide whether you can let it go. Holding a grudge at work is not good for you or the company. If you like your job and generally respect your boss, putting the issue aside may work out. On the other hand, if you feel that your boss is unreasonable, or if he or she engages in verbally abusive or over-controlling behaviors, it may be time to walk away. A toxic work environment is unhealthy, and remaining in a negative atmosphere is a waste of your time and talent. A new career direction may be the best move.

Ready for a New Start?

One way to escape a toxic employer is to chart your own path. Have you ever thought about owning your own business? As a business owner, you have the power to create a happy, productive work culture for yourself and others. Starting a business doesn’t need to be overly complicated. With the right training and support, finding happiness in a new industry is not only possible—it’s likely.

Neighborly has been helping men and women discover the joy of business ownership for more than 25 years through our award-winning franchise businesses. We currently have franchise business opportunities open in a variety of home service niches—from house cleaning to landscaping to plumbing and beyond—and we provide an extensive array of training programs and support services for all franchise owners.