How to tactfully disagree with your superior at work

It may be uncomfortable and even intimidating to voice a contrary opinion to your boss’s; however, the risks of not speaking up could be more severe. It is easier to agree of course, but saying “Yes” is not always the right thing to do. Here is how to go about disagreeing with someone in a position of greater authority.

1.    Weigh the potential consequences

Unless time is of the essence, take time to weigh the risks before expressing your disagreement. You may be overplaying the risks in your brain, imagining all things that could possibly go wrong. This is what brings more anxiety. Be realistic and set your mind at ease. If you have to, wait to speak with your boss in private; this will help to make them feel less defensive. Your boss may get a little bit upset or surprised at first, but you probably won’t get fired or make a lifelong enemy. Voicing your concerns may be an eye-opener to an overlooked issue.

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2.    Calmly ask for permission to differ

This is a smart way to give the person at a greater authority a safe zone to still be in control. If permission is granted, you can raise your concern without the fear that your boss did not want to hear it. You can choose to say something like, “I understand that we are in the process of giving the green light on this project, however, allow me to raise some concerns that will need us to shift our focus. Would that be okay?” Such a calm request will seldom result in the conversation devolving into a debate.

3.    Have your facts right

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Before voicing your opinion, stay calm and demonstrate that you understand the other person’s point of view. Validate your boss’s original point first, and then gather information and facts to make your disagreement more valid and more convincing. Find a connection between your disagreement and the idea on the table to identify a shared goal. After all, you should have a common ground if you work in the same company. Your intentions for differing are to get a more successful outcome. Your disagreement should portray a higher purpose and not just for the sake of arguing. Have evidence based information that prioritises logic over personal opinion that will back your disagreement. Your rock solid argument expresses maturity and professionalism.

4.    Listen

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Wait until the speaker is done talking, even if you think you can predict their next statements. Do not sit there feeling pressured for a chance to respond. Most people fall into this trap when they find themselves in the middle of a disagreement. Such situations are never productive. Rather, listen to the conversation keenly, with the aim of understanding, not responding. Air your views when you have a clear understanding of what your boss was trying to put across.

5.    Remain neutral

The anxiety may make your body language send mixed signals especially when you feel your heart racing. We tend to speak louder and faster when we’re panicky. Take deep breaths to ensure that you remain calm in both your words and actions. This will also ensure that your counterpart reads the right message. Keep in mind that your opinion, no matter how well-researched, is just that. You should respect the chain of command and maintain dialogue as you give your opinion.

6.    Stay clear of judgmental terms

If you are putting across a contrary opinion against your boss, beware of using terms like “short-sighted, naïve, hasty, impulsive or reckless” as they sound rather judgmental. Watch your language no matter how angry or disappointed you are. Share only facts without demeaning other peoples’ views. Your disagreement should be as honest and as worthwhile as possible.

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7.    Don’t get personal

Your goal is to effectively contribute to something better, not to poke holes into the other person’s beliefs. Avoid personal attacks at all costs, because at the end of the day, you will still work with and answer to your counterpart in other company tasks.

8.    Do not give false praise

The person in greater authority will probably still have the last word. Acknowledge that. Know your place, respect your superior and also maintain your own self-respect. Make it clear that as much as you disagreed, you still recognise the good in the entire idea.

9.    Know when to agree to disagree

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You need to know when to stop and move on even if you feel strongly about your side. Letting go is sometimes the best thing you can do. Disagreements are inevitable; but you need to be respectful and professional about them.

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