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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Disagree With Your Manager - How To Tactfully Tell Your Boss They're Wrong (& Keep Your Job)

The more senior the manager, the more power they have and the less likely they are to be corrected for their mistakes. Your boss is likely the one who hired you and pays your salary and going against them could be seen as challenging their authority. This makes it a daunting task to point out an error made by them when you are far below them on the corporate ladder. Is it worth risking your job to tell them they are wrong? Or should you remain quiet and let the firm manage the issue? It's important not to let fear stop you from speaking up. Even though it may be uncomfortable and go against office norms, if you approach it in a respectful and diplomatic way, you can help your manager identify and fix the issue without causing offence.

Calculating how your manager will respond when presented with evidence that they are wrong can be tricky. Depending on the situation, it may be viewed as an act of insubordination for certain managers, whereas others recognise the worth of their employee's views and welcome being challenged. It is important to do it carefully so that your boss doesn't experience humiliation. Although nobody wants to be told they are wrong, if you handle the situation appropriately, it could be a great opportunity to elevate your professional reputation.

Knowing how to tactfully tell your manager they're wrong is an essential skill for any successful career. Being able to have a constructive conversation with your boss when you disagree with them can be challenging and intimidating, but it doesn't have to be with some preparation and careful consideration.

Do you actually need to do this?

Before you address your manager's mistake, think long and hard about if it's actually critical to bring it up. Minor errors should probably be overlooked in order to avoid giving off a negative vibe. Also, think about why you're bringing it up - is it just to be contrary or overly picky? Worse yet, it could make matters worse without a valid reason. However, if the mistake could damage their reputation or has a serious business impact, they may be grateful to hear your views.

Prepare yourself before the conversation

Before you have the actual conversation with your manager about disagreeing with them, you should prepare. This is an opportunity to not only let your boss know that you disagree with them, but also that you have put a lot of thought behind it. This will help to make sure you don't come across as impulsive. It will also help you to better articulate your thoughts, evidence and feelings, which will make the conversation more constructive.

Note down your thoughts about the situation prior. It can help to prevent you from getting emotional and making the conversation personal rather than focussed on the issue. You may also consider having a trusted confidante to help you think through the situation, prepare for the conversation, and make sure you don't miss anything important. Make sure that your difference of opinion with your manager is not disclosed to anyone else ahead of time though - you do not want the office gossip mill to be abuzz with rumours of your conflicting opinion.

Prior to bringing up a mistake to your manager, make sure that you have verified it. Keep in mind that they likely have more knowledge than you, especially the bigger picture. Carefully examine the perceived problem, because incorrectly pointing out an issue will seriously damage your reputation.

It is essential that you provide at least one potential solution. Even if your solution is not accepted, having a solution ready will show your proactiveness, build your reputation, and move the dialogue away from the mistake to concentrate on correcting it.

Get the timing right

Achieving success when dealing with a problematic situation with your manager is dependent on choosing the correct moment to communicate your concerns. Do not assume that you will be welcomed with open arms if you burst into their office with a litany of issues, or that your manager will express gratitude if you bring up the topic during a team meeting.

Whenever it's possible, speak with your boss in private, so that you don't humiliate them in front of other people. In case of an urgent situation when having a private talk isn't an option, bring up the concern politely and in a manner that doesn't defy the line of authority or undermine your manager's status. If they stop the discussion midway, let it go for now, and bring up the issue again later in a more private setting.

It is likely that the conversation will go better if you give your boss the opportunity to decide on a time and suitable place where they can focus solely on you and your concerns.

Understand the importance of body language

One of the most important aspects of having a successful conversation with your manager is understanding the importance of body language. While what you say is undoubtedly important, your non-verbal communication can have just as big an impact. So make sure to pay attention to your posture, eye contact, and tone of voice to make sure you're coming across as respectful and constructive. This can help to prevent your boss from becoming defensive and misinterpreting the sentiment or motivation behind the conversation.

Check your attitude and conduct yourself professionally

While you should approach the conversation with confidence and respect, you should also make sure to conduct yourself professionally. This means respecting your boss's time and being mindful of your tone and language. Essentially, you're having a disagreement with your boss, not an argument. This will go a long way in making sure the conversation is constructive, and that you're not coming across as combative.

When you disagree with your boss, it doesn't mean that you don't respect them or their ability to make decisions. If anything, it shows that you're invested in your job and the success of your company. That's why it's so important to approach the conversation with confidence and without any resentment.

To start the conversation first politely inquire if it's an appropriate time to do so. Maintain a respectful attitude, demonstrating maturity and humility. Being smug or acting like you know more than your boss will not be well-received. It's essential to keep a professional mindset and to focus on business issues, even if the error is of personal relevance to you. You don't want to come off as if you are more important than the organisation.

Exercise caution when choosing words like "mistake" and "wrong." An attitude of "I told you so" and direct language that assigns fault will make it seem like your intention is to 'win' or show your manager up. If your manager feels that you are trying to criticise or offend them, they will become more entrenched in their position or, even worse, retaliate.

Therefore, be respectful and diplomatic. Utilise less emotive, more inclusive language, and direct your boss towards a problem-solving dialogue as opposed to a debate. Make an effort to clear a path for them to accept your suggestions without feeling offended or embarrassed.

Make sure to listen

As much as you want to make sure your manager knows you disagree with them, you also want to make sure you listen to them. This will make your boss more open to hearing your perspective. Make sure to actively listen to your manager, and avoid being defensive. This can include things like maintaining good eye contact, maintaining an attentive posture, and nodding as they speak. Basically, make sure your manager knows you're not just hearing what they're saying but that you're also listening to them.

Be open to understanding their perspective

Another important thing to keep in mind when disagreeing with your manager is to be open to their perspective. This doesn't mean you have to agree with them or that they're right. It means asking questions, making sure to understand their side of the situation, and staying interested in their viewpoint. This will help you to be more collaborative in addressing the issue.

Stay focused on the issue at hand

This means making sure to address the problem and not turning the conversation turn into a personal attack. If you feel like the conversation is taking a turn for the worse, you can try a few different things to get it back on track. One way to do this is by restating your initial concern or point so your manager knows what you're trying to address. Another way to get the conversation back on track is to ask your boss for their thoughts or ideas on the situation. Remember play the ball, not the player. That is, focus on the issue and not the people or personalities.

Come up with a plan of action

After you've had your conversation with your manager and they know you disagree with them, make sure to come up with a constructive plan of action to remedy things and an understanding of how to move forward as a team.

Be loyal and know when to let it go

When it is obvious that your manager is staying firm on their opinion, it is advisable to back off and not bring up the matter a second time. In certain circumstances, you may find it beneficial to document the fact that you spoke up, in the event that it is looked into in the future. Earn your manager's respect by disagreeing in private, then moving on and presenting a united front. Managers can handle a great deal of disagreement when they sense that the person who is dissenting still has a strong commitment to the team.

If you feel the matter needs to be taken further then have a private conversation with the HR department but do not voice your dissension to colleagues - you do not want to add fuel to the office rumour mill.

Wrapping up

It can be intimidating to question a superior's judgement. If you don't do it in the right way, it could lead to negative consequences for your job security and hurt working relationships. On the other hand, though, many managers are pleased when someone brings it to their attention that an unsatisfactory decision is being made, especially if it can help to avert a problem. When you do this, make sure to be respectful, tactful, and timely, and remember that the ultimate choice is up to your boss. By doing this, you can help prevent potential issues, and preserve reputations - yours and theirs.

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