How to Disagree With Your Boss

Disagreements are inevitable in the workforce. However, it’s how we deal with them that makes our production thrive or dive. There are a few ways we can deal with disagreements that will enhance our ability to work well while disagreeing with decisions from the “powers that be.” Here are three ways to help:

Disagree privately. Promote publicly.

As a platoon leader in the Army, I had an excellent team leader that helped me learn this lesson. He and I disagreed on the layout of our tents in a training exercise. He argued that we did not need a tent to eat because the troops could eat in their sleeping tents. I countered that I didn’t want food in the tents to avoid bugs and critters getting into the sleeping tents. Upset, he marched off to his team.

When he arrived at his team, he publicly affirmed the decision to put up the eating tent. Not only did he put the tent up quickly, but he did it with a positive attitude and even encouraged his soldiers to work hard without complaint. His example stuck with me, and I often refer to his professionalism in disagreeing privately and promoting publicly.

I understand some non-commissioned officers would shudder that I would get involved in that decision as an officer. I believed in openness with my platoon sergeant, and I supported his wisdom in having an eating tent. So, when my team leader came up to me for this decision, it was already decided beforehand.

Be specific when explaining bad news

It’s tough to face your team when your boss orders a decision you don’t want to execute. It’s frustrating for you, but it’ll be more frustrating for your subordinates because they’ll be the ones carrying out the workload and suffering the consequences.

Be as detailed as possible. You can be disappointed with the decision, but be as explicit as possible without complaining. When you’re open about details, your team will gain a greater respect for you. They’ll trust that you’ll help them navigate the troubled waters ahead. Think of it as an experience to grow together and to assist those you manage.

I remember a time when my company commander told me I had to transfer good soldiers out of my platoon to the other platoon in the company. In exchange, I received soldiers who were injured, recovering from injury, or soldiers who had failed physical fitness assessments. When I broke the news to my good soldiers that they were transferring platoons, they were visibly upset, and they asked to stay. Although I was agitated with the company commander’s decision, I told these excellent soldiers everything they needed to know about their next platoon. My platoon sergeant and I spared no detail, and we helped them successfully transition. The transition ultimately led to a greater good for the company as a whole, even if it was temporarily complicated for my platoon sergeant and I. The soldiers we received who had issues varied in their success after the transition. Some got promoted and reenlisted while others had to leave the Army prematurely.

That wasn’t the first time I disagreed with a decision, and it won’t be the last. The more you can tell your team to help, the better.

Discuss. Don’t argue

Complaints can come from all sides. When addressing decisions from bosses, don’t complain. Frame your thoughts as concerns and then talk about solutions to the issues. Be the creative one to think about why your leaders made the decisions they made.

Who made the decision, and why? Your responsibility is to understand your boss’s perspective and to portray it to your team and peers. As soon as you start complaining, you lose credibility.

One good example of this is a United States Marine Corps General (R), James Mattis. In his book Call Sign: Chaos, he faced several decisions as a commander in Iraq that he believed would hinder the mission’s progress. He also advocated for candid discussions behind closed doors with decision-makers to influence change. When the decision was made, then he did his best to execute the mission, whether he agreed or not. Mattis also believed that if his country called him to serve, then he would do it. And, he would help to the best of his ability for as long as he can in any position. That’s why he accepted President Trump’s invitation to be the Secretary of Defense.

That doesn’t always mean blindly accept any decision. People can negotiate. That time for negotiation is in private, before the final decision, with the right people. It speaks to your character to see every mission completed under your charge.

Explain ‘why’ to your subordinates

We’re growing up in the ‘why’ generation where purpose requires an explanation. It’s one thing to say ‘just do it’ and another thing entirely to explain why. It may be frustrating, but would you rather have someone tell you to do something and walk away, or would you want someone to sit down and patiently explain why something needs to happen?

Sometimes your response to ‘jump’ is ‘how high?’ But for the majority of top-down decisions, there’s time to articulate a few reasons for the given orders.

The Army uses the term ‘Commander’s Intent’ to explain the purpose behind a mission. A commander’s intent has three parts: purpose, key tasks, and end-state.

Purpose: The purpose is the reason for accomplishing the mission; why is this unit conducting this operation?

Key tasks: Key Tasks are the things that must happen to accomplish the mission. These tasks can be tricky to develop. You have to ask: what has to happen to achieve mission success? Usually, you’ll have between three and five key tasks.

End-State: This is the essential part. The end-state is your end-picture. If you took a photo of the mission/project when everything is all done, how would it look? It’s helpful to chunk it out. How will the customer feel? How does your team look? How does the budget look? What expectation did you fulfill from your boss? The Army uses enemy forces, friendly forces, terrain, and civilians to articulate how each component should look at the end of a mission.

Conclusion

There’s not a catch-all when it comes to working with solutions you don’t like. Remember only one thing: don’t complain. You’re always being evaluated as a leader, a peer, and a subordinate, and griping about the decision will not help you.

Instead, find that purpose. Manage your expectations with your team so they can achieve success even though it’ll be harder. Discuss your concerns with your boss and offer other solutions professionally. Your contributions are meaningful, and you can help sway decisions in the future.

How would you handle this? What would you do/have done if a decision came down where you disagreed but still had to work? Let me know in the comments section down below.

Thanks for reading!

 

10 thoughts on “How to Disagree With Your Boss”

  1. coralie says:

    Wow I really enjoyed reading your article.  I need to post this at my work, as people there love to complain about our boss.  She does her best, but at times, people just can’t do what they are asked to do.  Seems like just because you have an opinion that everyone needs to constantly hear it.  When she tells them to do something, they just can’t go do it..
    It absolutely drives me crazy. 
    I was not raised that way. I think following direction at times can be a challenge, but there is a reason that their is a heirarchy and that seems to get lost with people today.
    Thank you and great job.

    1. Robert says:

      Coralie,

      I’m glad you enjoyed my article! It’d be a good one to share. Complaining doesn’t solve things. When it comes to the boss, though, constructive and thoughtful analysis coupled with a solution and associated risks is the way to go. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  2. Samikingss says:

    The title of this article is some what funny and it made me laugh when I first saw it but on a second glance and reading through the article it is something we don’t look forward to thereby making the work place seen like a war front. Bosses and employees should learn lots of positives from this article. I am so enlightened reading through this piece. 

    1. Robert says:

      Sami,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! We don’t want to disagree with our bosses, you’re right. When disagreements come, we need to treat our boss with respect when we do disagree. I appreciate your perspective!

      Robert

  3. IAN says:

    Hi Robert.

    I found that your article was really inspirational. Having a difficult boss may complicate things but the method to disagreeing with him or her is outlined very clearly: don’t complain.

    I found this out the hard way a while back when my boss just ordered us to do certain things without giving clear instructions and expecting everyone to cooperate. That’s where your section on ‘explain why to your subordinates’ becomes very helpful.

    Unfortunately we never got to see eye to eye and she left last year. That left us with just the examples that was previously set and we are improvising now on our own to make the workplace a better environment.

    1. Robert says:

      Ian,

      I’m sorry you didn’t get to reconcile the workplace with your old boss. I hope that your workplace is getting better. I’m glad you found the post inspirational. I take issue with those who complain instead of finding solutions.

      Robert

  4. Sami says:

    I really appreciated your article and the message of carrying out directions that you disagree with.  There are few of us who will not be in a position to pay attention to the suggestions you have shared.  When this happens often, you kind of figure out how to make things work anyhow.  However, armed with this kind of advice and the suggested reactions, the whole work relationship could be a completely different partnership, and workplace calmer.  

    The army has some excellent teaching experiences for many working towards a common goal.  Like most collaborative groups, the results can be a good peaceful exercise in moving forward or an example of Chaos and Bedlam. Thank you for the information about how to survive a boss you don’t agree with. The working example you gave produced a clear way to handle this situation for the future.

    1. Robert says:

      Sami,

      You’re right that the workplace and relationships can be calmer. It’ll just depend on how each situation is handled. The Army does have some great teaching experiences. I feel like one of those is learning how to lead and follow in order to achieve a goal. Like you said, its a collaborative effort. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

  5. evans says:

    so thoughtful of you to come up with such a lovely topic on how to disagree with your boss, I must say that a lot of persons might find it funny but it’s what I’ve got know, no knowledge is actually lost at a point or the other you might find yourself in a situation where you would have to make certain decisions not to Ally with your, boss these tips given here we go a long way for one to make such decisions….

    thanks for sharing and I look forward to sharing it i look forward to share it too

    1. Robert says:

      Evans,

      Thank you for your input! We won’t always agree with our boss, but we need to be cordial too. Thanks for your comment!

      Robert

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