Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

The Professional Way to Disagree with Your Boss


If you value your job and reputation, there are productive ways and unproductive ways to disagree with your boss.



As a Seattle business consultant, I’ve been the boss. Prior to my consulting practice, I was in management and also had been an employee always looking to advance my career.

So I’ve experienced both sides – that of the employer and employee.

Always an efficiency expert as an employee, candidly, I did a lot of things right but I also learned some valuable lessons along the way.

ID-10081495For example, often it’s more important how you convey an opinion than what you what state your opinion is.

That’s especially true when you disagree with someone who has authority over you.

With some perspectives and lessons learned from my career, here are professional ways to disagree with your manager:

1. Prepare for negotiations

Make sure you’ve built a solid foundation for approaching your boss.

That means having good office relationships. Use proper business etiquette daily.

Create opportunities for success by working for a better relationship with your boss.

2. Assess your risks

You must be aware of the risks to your organization and you, if you fail to broach the subject. Then, you must appraise the consequences of approaching your boss.

3. Seek commonality in goals

Project an image that you’re a humble team player.

Assume that your boss wants the company to succeed. Plan to connect your points to benefit the overall welfare of the organization.

Position your argument so that you don’t appear to be a malcontent. You want to appear as a congenial employee who merely wants to achieve the company’s objectives.

4. Pick the right time

Timing is everything. Depending on the topic, there’s a good time and a bad time. If you face significant opposition, you really need to gather all pertinent information first.

Egos can be a hindrance. Whenever possible, it’s best if you wait to discuss your topic privately.

5. Ask your boss to present an alternative

You must ask your manager for the permission to disagree as in “may I present an option.” That’s an important step as you make it clear to your boss that you acknowledge the person’s authority.

If the boss says, OK, then you’ve gained an upper hand psychologically.

6. Remain detached and calm

Watch your tone of voice and body language. Don’t be aggressive or cocky. If you fail to stay relaxed, you will defeat your purpose in approaching your boss.

So rehearse your argument. When the time comes, take deep breaths and speak softly.

7. With humility, acknowledge the boss’s authority

Always know your place in the organization and acknowledge it. Use phrases, like: “You might wish to consider…”

As an employer, my favorite employee of all time was a personal assistant who possessed an MBA and had previously been a consultant herself. She worked for me part-time in order to devote maximum time to her young family.

With her credentials, she commanded a great deal of respect. She was always humble and confident, too.

There were times when she disagreed with me – with a smile. She always mentioned the phrase, “It’s your call.” Inevitably, she often persuaded me.

8. Acknowledge your manager’s opinion and empathize

Demonstrate you understand your boss’s point-of-view. Re-state your boss’s position:

“If I understand you correctly, you feel…?”

Empathize:  “I can see how you feel that way”…or “You know, our chief competitor has the same challenge.”

Overcome the boss’s objection with facts.

9. Don’t be judgmental with labels

So don’t be accusatory with negative adjectives, words or phrasing such as: “You’re being narrow-minded.”

Keep the focus on the principles at-hand, not your boss’s personality. Instead, stay with the facts and tie them to the benefits of your proposition.

“The best move you can make in negotiation is to think of an incentive the other person hasn’t even thought of – and then meet it.”

-Eli Broad

If you face opposition in trying to get a promotion, here are important steps to take:

1. Seek feedback on your performance

Don’t be afraid to ask for your boss’s opinion. Either you’ll learn manager’s negative point-of-view, or you’ll set the stage for a positive outcome on your promotion request.

2.Look for opportunities to solve your boss’s challenges

Even if you have a lot on your plate, work on your manager’s concerns first. This will enhance trust from your boss.

3. Be a visionary

Consider challenges outside your comfort zone. Your new expertise will serve you well with your current employer as well as your future jobs elsewhere.

4. Be assertive – ask for the promotion

If you believe you’re eligible for a promotion, state your case and ask for it.

5. Be aware of your best timing in opportunities

If a promotion will be held up because the next level for you would be your boss’s job, help your boss as much as possible to advance.

But if it’s obvious your boss won’t be promoted or if you’re laboring in a toxic environment, look outside the company for a new job. Make sure you leave for a promotion. Avoid making lateral moves.

Good luck!

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related career tips:

Having Trouble Breaking through the Glass Ceiling? 5 Tips — If you’re having trouble breaking through the glass ceiling, you probably need a change in strategies. There can be several reasons for your struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

Responding to Negative Criticism Requires Professionalism — No one likes being criticized in their work. It’s difficult to hear and it’s understandable why many people make the mistake of being defensive. If you get negative feedback, it’s in your best interest to remain calm and receptive. It’s actually your responsibility – to yourself and the organization.

5 Personality Traits for Personal and Professional Success — Five personality traits are important for overcoming stress and achieving goals academically, professionally and in personal relationships.

Do You Want a Better Break at Work? Here’s How to Get it — Here’s news that benefits both workers and managers: If you want to maximize workday breaks to boost concentration, energy and motivation, here’s new thinking on the subject.

36 Tips: Develop Confidence to Win an Office Tug of War — For people lacking in self-confidence, winning an office tug of war is easier said than done. Unlike leaders, they unknowingly give away their power. One sign is whether you’re winning hearts and minds at work. For instance, in the event of disagreements, are you able to persuade others?

“The best move you can make in negotiation is to think of an incentive the other person hasn’t even thought of – and then meet it.”

-Eli Broad

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy stockimages at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.