When you disagree with your boss: 7 things not to do

It is uncomfortable. It is irritating. It is even upsetting. It can make us tie our stomach in knots. What am I talking about? When the boss makes a decision we think is wrong. These decisions can range from your boss assigning work to someone else all the way to jumping into your work and changing the direction or philosophy of what you are working on. (This is particularly hard.)

I have had both happen and everything in the middle. When the boss makes a bad decision from our perspective, you want to scream at the wall or pour a glass of wine. Either way, disagreeing with your boss can be frustrating if not flat out maddening.

This is a tough situation to be in. If you are comfortable and have a good relationship, there are times when you need to manage up and disagree. Position your point of view. No one says that that boss can’t be wrong after all.

Good managers will listen to different opinions. Some even welcome it. Those are the secure leaders who appreciate when people push back on them. Then, there are managers who believe they are right 100% of the time. Those leaders are not only difficult to hold a discussion with but, oftentimes, there is no discussion.

Even if your manager is open to dissenting ideas, there are some things you want to stay away from to continue to be professional and to influence them to see your point of view.

  1. Don’t disagree with everything. I once had a team member that disagreed with everything I decided. I dreaded our weekly one-on-one meetings because I knew everything I brought to him would be rejected. The problem with this attitude is you can start to get labeled as someone who is negative or high maintenance. Even if you are a high performer, people will start to wonder if you’re worth “dealing with” if everything is a disagreement. For a manager, this is exhausting behavior. Pick your disagreements. Some are worth it and some really aren’t. Decide what matters most to you.
  2. Don’t make it personal. It can be very difficult to see that a decision that doesn’t go your way may not be personal. Admittedly, taking things personally has been something I have struggled with in my career. We can be comparative as human beings. If a decision favors someone else, we can think that person is more appreciated or I am not as good as that person. Don’t let these type of decisions define your self-esteem or shake your confidence. More than likely, there is another reason behind the decision that has nothing to do with you.
  3. Don’t get upset. Depending on the decision, it can be upsetting. Fight the urge to get upset. I have found nothing good comes from this in the workplace. This doesn’t mean you can’t make an impassioned plea for your theory or perspective, but don’t get visibly upset. One time, my boss pulled his 5 direct reports together to try and re-structure the group. First, I don’t know that this is ever a good idea. Someone’s feelings will always get hurt. The way the structure exercise was going, my colleague was having a significant chunk of work taken from her and moved under me. She started to cry because her entire career seemed to be taken from her with a make on the whiteboard. My manager had a challenging situation on his hands. We needed to stop and she was counseled off to the side. She told me later that she wished she could have made a business argument why that wasn’t a good idea instead of displaying her emotions.
  4. Don’t preach. Some of us have the urge to use our words to beat someone down. No one likes to be lectured…especially not our managers. When some of my team members need to influence me to choose a different direction, I respond much better to solid arguments without tears and without being preached to. Preaching means you aren’t listening and are not having a dialogue. Store your soap box and make a business case with open ears for hearing what your manager has to say.
  5. Don’t be passive aggressive. Then, there are those of us who don’t cry or lecture but say nothing. Early in my management days, I had an employee who would just clam up and refuse to say anything when she disagreed with me. She would then tell others how she disagreed with me but never told me to my face. This is behavior I just couldn’t endorse. Most managers don’t want to hear from someone else what your employee thinks of you or the decision you made. If you disagree, have some courage to present your point of view. This will get more respect than clamming up and gossiping to others.
  6. Don’t continue to bring it up. If your manager holds to his decision after a good discussion, don’t keep bringing it up In every meeting. And, while it is really tempting to say “I told you so” if your solution would have been better, resist that urge. Stay professional. I had a team member who would not let a decision go. He was like a dog with a bone if you’ll pardon the metaphor. Back to point #1, this can be exhausting for a manager. Let it go. Let decisions be made and work to make them real. Don’t keep revisiting the decision unless there is new evidence to open it back up. Sometimes, it can be okay to check in on a decision if the execution is bringing up new factors to consider. Most of the time, let’s the decision lie and move on.
  7. Don’t let it ruin your day. To the point above, let it go, for your own sanity. I used to get wrapped up how bad a decision was. I knew I had a better way but I was unable to convince my manager. I would carry this around with me. Through time and experience, I learned to not let these conflicts ruin my day. By all means, get a little irritated at the wall for a few minutes but then find a way to cut it off and move on. Remember, the boss has a right to be wrong.

There is usually an opportunity to respectively challenge your manager on a decision with a solid business reason delivered unemotionally. Most managers will be open to listen to your opinion. Keep in mind you don’t want to die on every hill. Pick the important ones to disagree over and go scale that hill. If you can’t influence your boss to go your way, find a way to accept it and execute against that decision by doing your best.

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