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By Sanjay Sanghoee
February 19, 2015

The fear of disagreeing with authority is universal. It exists in life, and certainly in the regimented corporate workplace. While millennials are arguably more willing to express their opinions to a superior, most workers still remain shy – to the detriment of their career progress.

The fact is that it is not only possible to disagree with your boss without endangering your job, but the willingness to do so could put you on the fast track to professional success. What we tend to forget is that most managers benefit from having their employees provide constructive feedback and contribute original ideas. It can help the managers do their own job more effectively and easily.

The key lies in why and how that disagreement is communicated. Here are 5 tips that can help you navigate those waters successfully:

  1. Make sure you are disagreeing for the right reason. Too often, we disagree to compensate for our own lack of authority, without a good reason or an end goal in mind. That’s a serious mistake since it can compromise your professional credibility with your boss. It’s also just annoying. Disagreements that have a valid context and add real value, on the other hand, can be a big plus.
  2. Disagreeing is not about arguing but making an argument. Anyone who argues routinely with their boss is likely to be eventually fired. But a worker who frames her disagreement as a logical and thoughtful argument in favor of a better approach to a situation or a new idea will be heard gladly, and win serious points with the boss. Avoid attacking other people’s views or complaining and focus instead on making your own constructive points.
  3. Do your homework. Nothing irks a manager more than a worker who insists on sharing his opinion but hasn’t done the research to support and stress test his argument. It shows intellectual laziness on the part of the worker and fails to provide the manager with the tools to evaluate the input. Think about it. If you don’t do your homework, you are effectively forcing your boss to do it for you. Could that ever be a good idea?
  4. Be passionate but not emotional. Arguments are more convincing when they are delivered with passion. The listener needs to feel that you genuinely care about your suggestions, believe in your perspective, and are willing to take ownership of it. But that doesn’t need to involve an excess of emotion, which can make you look hysterical and your boss feel pressured. A clear, confident, and calm presentation will have the best impact.
  5. Speak in the same language as your boss. Some people are extremely data-driven whereas others are more intuitive. Knowing your boss’ personality will help you relate better and communicate your argument more effectively. Put yourself in your boss’ shoes. If you think in numbers, then a numerical argument might persuade you of a different viewpoint whereas a purely gut-based presentation will meet with instant skepticism.

To summarize, don’t be afraid to disagree with your boss. Alternative views and good ideas can benefit your organization as well as your own career. Just follow these guidelines to do it the right way.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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