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How to disagree with your boss without falling out

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Clashing with your boss could be stressful – keep calm and make your point and present your argument and reasons as clearly as you can. Photo: Getty

Disagreeing with a colleague isn’t always easy and from time to time, it can be far easier to keep quiet over something trivial. There is, after all, something to be said for choosing your battles wisely.

Clashing with a boss can take things to a whole new level, however – and there are times when you need to make yourself heard and get your point across. So how can you disagree with the person who most likely hired you without harming the relationship?

Jolene Foley, HR manager at Vouchercloud, says one of the best strategies is the “disagree and commit” principle.

“Basically, it means that people can, and often should, disagree while the decision is being made. Once that decision has been solidified, however, everyone has to commit to making the project successful,” she explains.

“Beyond that, as an employee, if you disagree with your boss you need to commit to it – don’t just snipe and run. Give your opinion, give the reasons you have that opinion, and then it’s up to your boss to decide if they want to take your opinion or idea on board.”

You also need to think about several factors if you are planning to disagree with your manager. 

“You absolutely win some and can also lose some, but you can sometimes turn a win into a loss by hitting the message too hard, at the wrong time,” Foley says. “Before you decide to disagree with your boss, you need to consider whether: You’re doing at the right time, you’re doing it in the right way, you’re delivering the right message.”

READ MORE: The difference between a tough boss and a bully

If you can, ask your manager for some time to speak to them one-to-one so you can get your point across without any distractions. As hard as it is when you’re angry about something, try to keep calm and give your reasons for disagreeing clearly.

“Firstly, if your boss gets upset or argumentative over being disagreed with, you have to question whether you brought the topic up in the right way or the right setting – there’s a time or place,” Foley says.

“There’s a world of difference, for example, in shooting down the idea for a project your boss has worked on in a public setting compared to offering your advice in private. The latter is invariably received better.”

It’s possible your boss will rethink their views and take yours into consideration. But there’s always the chance they will stick to their guns. “Regardless of the result, once it’s over, you need to draw a line under the decision and make sure it doesn’t bleed over into future discussions,” Foley adds.

How your manager reacts may also depend on your experience and how well they know you. If you have a good working relationship with your boss and they trust your ideas and opinions, they may be more likely to listen to you. If you’ve not been working with them for very long, they might not.

“Ultimately, as an employee, you need to have ‘credit in the bank’ to disagree and really be heard,” Foley explains. “Once you have that relationship – based on prior experience and mutual understanding – developed, you will be much more effective in voicing your opinions and having your opinions heard. 

READ MORE: Can you ever be close friends with your boss

“In many cases it comes down to hierarchy – you have to respect the chain of command. Through knowing and building relationships with your manager, you can increase the likelihood of your manager knowing that your opinions are valid and useful.”

It’s also important to remember that it isn’t always personal – and if it is, you may want to think about whether you have a good working environment. If you think your manager is disregarding your suggestions because of your gender or any other factor, it is discrimination. Hopefully, this is not the case – and if you’ll excuse the cliche, it’s just business.

“Sometimes, your manager will disagree because they know something you don’t,” Foley says.

“The hierarchy is almost always there for a good reason – sometimes you just have to let it go and trust in the people who have put your boss in the role they’re in. Sometimes you just have to let it go and respect the decision – regardless of whether you agree or not.”