Have you ever had a disagreement with your boss? Found yourself unable to get a word in, respond at all, or come to your own defense? Unable to get the boss to move from the opinion they have already formed?
It’s not always easy to speak your mind to the boss when your opinion differs. While I hear of many bosses who want greater candor, there are few people who really know how to speak truth to power in a way that gets the message to land well.
There ARE ways to disagree well:
Agree to be Candid Before Your Have the Conversation. When the stakes are low and people are calm is when you should talk about how you will talk when you disagree. That agreement can serve as a powerful cornerstone to the conversation if things get heated. It’s harder to take offense at candor when permission has been granted for it.
Cover Your Intentions First. People get defensive when they think you are a threat to their goals. You can be more honest if you frame your comments in the context of your mutual purpose. If you share a mutual purpose that your boss cares about you can disagree and still be committed to their goals. Talk about your intention before diving into the content of your message.
Respect before Disagreement. Find a way to assure your boss of your respect for them as well as their position.
Ask for Permission to Disagree. Asking for permission can be a way to avoid unneeded provocation and is a critical way to honor the position of the boss.
Find useful ways to set the stage where you can concede and refute. (“I expect that there will be times when you and I disagree. When that happens, I would like to know that you will allow me to express my concerns.”)
First listen and understand the concerns and the goals your boss has. Assure the boss of your common objectives. Be clear about your intention before you present your content. Show respect – no matter how heated things get.
Always set the stage. This is especially true when you think you are going out on ‘thin ice’ and talking about minefield issues like a breach of ethics, harassment or discrimination. You can start the conversation by saying something like “I have something I’d like to talk with you about but I’m concerned that it won’t land well and you’ll think I don’t respect you – and I do. However, I don’t think I’d be loyal or respectful if I didn’t share my perspective. May I?”
When the boss blows up at your disagreement, it may not mean that they don’t think anyone will ever disagree with them. By asking if you can be candid, being clear about your intent before talking about the content of your concern, and getting permission to disagree, you may find that you can disagree agreeably.