Here's How to Disagree With Your Boss Without Losing Your Job

10 Tips for Healthy Disagreement in an Employer/Employee Relationship

Angry business manager pointing his watch to subordinate businesswoman working missed deadline. Boss and worker at work having conflict.
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It’s not career suicide to disagree with your boss. In fact, confident managers want employees that will disagree with them. Disagreement creates better ideas, solves problems, creates positive relationships, and promotes personal growth and development.

That said, disagreeing with your boss is much easier if your organization’s work culture supports divergent opinions and points of view. In these kinds of organizations, involved, engaged employees are encouraged to offer their opinions and ideas because the organization wants to take advantage of employees' talents, skills, and experience.

However, let's not forget that bosses are human, too, and have their own particular management style. That management style can range from dictatorial to so hands-off that they are out-of-touch. The important thing is to know your boss and his or her leadership style to properly assess how much disagreement will be appreciated and tolerated.

How to Prep for Disagreement

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. Having facts available that support your case is also helpful.

Researching the area of disagreement, benchmarking the practices of other companies, and talking with your industry contacts is homework that you should do before approaching your boss. That way, noncompetitive best practices will bring the necessary verification to support your viewpoint. Armed with data, it won't be about what you think versus what your boss thinks.

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.

10 Key Actions to Take to Prepare for Disagreeing

In order to have the most successful outcome for your disagreement discussion with your boss, here are 10 things that employees have done that have provided the best results. Adhering to all or some of these will make disagreeing with your boss easier, safer, and more likely to get you the result you're looking for.

  • 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. They would disagree when they really thought they were in the right and they weren't just disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.
  • 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 team or department and ignored 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 and therefore could be trusted.
  • They didn’t make the boss feel like an idiot. No part of the disagreement was personal in nature, and there was no name-calling, sarcasm, or disparagement. The disagreement came across as a logical approach to the problem and 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 a managerial position. They asked themselves what they could learn from their boss and sought time with their boss to discuss issues and approaches.
  • Their business ethics and relationships were above reproach. They were people the boss could comfortably support and defend.
  • They didn’t go around the boss to his or her boss to plead their case. The boss wasn’t blindsided by their boss and the reporting employee who disagreed. 
  • They were good communicators who could express themselves convincingly with evidence and rationale to support their case. They knew that “I think” or “I feel” were not enough to affect the critical direction. They needed to present hard data and relevant facts. They were able to demonstrate 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 (or need) to disagree with your boss.