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How to disagree with your boss - without getting fired

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Executive Grapevine professionalism, workplace hacks, business lessons...

Believing that your boss is fundamentally wrong, yet being expected to action their commands, is a horribly conflicting situation to be in for any employee.

Whilst the truth is essential and ensuring that your team isn’t wasting valuable time based on false information is hugely important, disagreeing with the boss can be taken badly, and if it isn’t handled with subtlety and discretion, can result in some pretty grave consequences.

Obviously regardless of your boss’ management style or personality type, the last thing you want to do is embarrass them or appear to be insubordinate, as these are big red flags that may well affect your career going forward; as such, the issue should be approached in a very specific manner. The following five rules should serve as guidelines for manoeuvring the issue without causing concern.

1. Ensure that you’re correct 

Nothing will lose your credibility in this situation faster than challenging your boss’ information without checking that you’re correct. Blindly trusting your own intuition without researching the data first smacks of arrogance and single-mindedness. You must ensure that you’re correct if you’re going to attempt to correct your boss.  

2. Decide if it’s essential

There are some incorrect statements that we can all simply ignore. The very fact that your boss has stated incorrect data in itself does not require your attention. So, before you decide to do anything about it, you must use your own judgement to assess whether it is necessary at all. No, misquoting Shakespeare or using a malaprop in a speech doesn’t require correcting.

3. Assess the situation

If this is a company-wide meeting, do you really want to be the worker that interrupts your boss in front of all of these people? Is the information worth potentially being forever regarded as a ‘nit-picker’ or a contrarian? Again, if the information is being shared in a senior management meeting or in front of your boss’ boss, this probably isn’t the right time to bring this up. However, if the false information is shared in an informal Q&A session or in a more neutral environment, chances are on the spot is indeed the correct time and place to casually bring it up.

4. Consider your approach 

As previously mentioned, if the situation is informal, casually recalling that the information was slightly different is probably the best approach, dependent on your boss’ temperament. If, however, the situation is more formal, it may be a good idea to convey the correct data through an email or a discrete phone call.

5. Language is everything 

Under no circumstances should you use any condescending or confrontational buzzwords. For example, it’s never a good idea to accuse your boss of being ‘wrong’ or having ‘made a mistake’. Almost regardless of temperament, your boss is virtually guaranteed to be angry if you start accusing them. Instead, try to suggest that the data simply may be slightly different. Your goal should be to offer them a way of accepting the correction, without being backed into a corner. Remember, you’re on the same side – they should feel this too.

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