How to Disagree With Your Boss

Disagreements are inevitable in the workforce. There are several ways to disagree with your boss, but you need to use the right method.

How you handle conflict with your boss speaks volumes about your character. There are a few ways we can deal with disagreements that will enhance your ability to work well while still disagreeing with a decision.

Here are four 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. He was upset with the decision and 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 learned a valuable lesson in disagreeing privately while promoting publicly.

Explain Bad News. Give Solutions

Bad news does not get better with time. If you have bad news to deliver to your boss, be candid. Then, provide solutions with a highlighted recommendation. This way, even if you disagree with the boss’s decision, you contributed to the decision-making process at a minimum.

Likewise, 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 executing the task.

One time, my company commander told me I had to transfer good soldiers from my platoon to another platoon within the company. In exchange, I would receive soldiers who were injured, recovering from injury, or soldiers who had failed physical fitness assessments.

When I notified my good soldiers about the transfer order, they were visibly upset and 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.

I outwardly supported the company commander’s soldier transition plan even when I privately disagreed. The soldiers we sent away did great things in the other platoon. Similarly, the soldiers I received did well in some regard. Some got promoted and reenlisted, while others decided to transition to civilian life.

That wasn’t the first time I disagreed with a decision, and it won’t be the last.

Discuss. Don’t Argue

Disagreements are inevitable but don’t complain when you’re talking to your boss. Whining will lead to arguing. Instead, present the problem, the solution your boss implemented with its corresponding effects, and then develop a second solution. Foster a discussion instead of stirring up an argument.

One good example of using the ‘discuss’ method was United States Marine Corps General (R), James Mattis. In his book Call Sign Chaos, Mattis faced several decisions as a commander in Iraq that he believed would hinder the mission’s progress.

Mattis asked for candid feedback on decisions he made. If something didn’t go well, he wanted to know. Discussing solutions was the key to mission success for General Mattis.

Conversely, when Mattis had to carry out a decision he didn’t like, he would state his concern and propose a solution. If that didn’t work, he ensured that the agreed-upon decision became successful.

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. However, when your boss gives the final decision, then support your boss and the tasks that follow.

How to disagree with your boss

Photo by Moose Photos

Explain ‘Why’ To Your Boss And Subordinates

We’re growing up in the ‘why’ generation where tasks require explanations. 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 order you to do something without explanation, or would you want someone to sit down and patiently explain why something needs to happen?

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?

Simon Sinek adequately described this concept in his book Start With WhyPeople perform well when they have a task and purpose, as described in Sinek’s book.

Conclusion

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 through disagreement. Discuss your concerns with your boss and professionally offer other solutions. 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!

Books Mentioned

Call Sign Chaos by GEN (R) James Mattis. Read a review here.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Read a review here.

Photo Credit

Featured Image: Photo by Agugus de Richelieu

1: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

2: Photo by Polina Zimmerman

3: Photo by Christina Morillo

4: Photo by Moose Photos

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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