The Professional Way to Disagree with Your Boss

If you value your job and reputation, there are productive ways and unproductive ways to disagree with your boss.

As a Seattle business consultant, I’ve been the boss. Prior to my consulting practice, I was in management and also had been an employee always looking to advance my career.

So I’ve experienced both sides – that of the employer and employee.

Always an efficiency expert as an employee, candidly, I did a lot of things right but I also learned some valuable lessons along the way.

ID-10081495For example, often it’s more important how you convey an opinion than what you what state your opinion is.

That’s especially true when you disagree with someone who has authority over you.

With some perspectives and lessons learned from my career, here are professional ways to disagree with your manager:

1. Prepare for negotiations

Make sure you’ve built a solid foundation for approaching your boss.

That means having good office relationships. Use proper business etiquette daily.

Create opportunities for success by working for a better relationship with your boss.

2. Assess your risks

You must be aware of the risks to your organization and you, if you fail to broach the subject. Then, you must appraise the consequences of approaching your boss.

3. Seek commonality in goals

Project an image that you’re a humble team player.

Assume that your boss wants the company to succeed. Plan to connect your points to benefit the overall welfare of the organization.

Position your argument so that you don’t appear to be a malcontent. You want to appear as a congenial employee who merely wants to achieve the company’s objectives.

4. Pick the right time

Timing is everything. Depending on the topic, there’s a good time and a bad time. If you face significant opposition, you really need to gather all pertinent information first.

Egos can be a hindrance. Whenever possible, it’s best if you wait to discuss your topic privately.

5. Ask your boss to present an alternative

You must ask your manager for the permission to disagree as in “may I present an option.” That’s an important step as you make it clear to your boss that you acknowledge the person’s authority.

If the boss says, OK, then you’ve gained an upper hand psychologically.

6. Remain detached and calm

Watch your tone of voice and body language. Don’t be aggressive or cocky. If you fail to stay relaxed, you will defeat your purpose in approaching your boss.

So rehearse your argument. When the time comes, take deep breaths and speak softly.

7. With humility, acknowledge the boss’s authority

Always know your place in the organization and acknowledge it. Use phrases, like: “You might wish to consider…”

As an employer, my favorite employee of all time was a personal assistant who possessed an MBA and had previously been a consultant herself. She worked for me part-time in order to devote maximum time to her young family.

With her credentials, she commanded a great deal of respect. She was always humble and confident, too.

There were times when she disagreed with me – with a smile. She always mentioned the phrase, “It’s your call.” Inevitably, she often persuaded me.

8. Acknowledge your manager’s opinion and empathize

Demonstrate you understand your boss’s point-of-view. Re-state your boss’s position:

“If I understand you correctly, you feel…?”

Empathize:  “I can see how you feel that way”…or “You know, our chief competitor has the same challenge.”

Overcome the boss’s objection with facts.

9. Don’t be judgmental with labels

So don’t be accusatory with negative adjectives, words or phrasing such as: “You’re being narrow-minded.”

Keep the focus on the principles at-hand, not your boss’s personality. Instead, stay with the facts and tie them to the benefits of your proposition.

“The best move you can make in negotiation is to think of an incentive the other person hasn’t even thought of – and then meet it.”

-Eli Broad

If you face opposition in trying to get a promotion, here are important steps to take:

1. Seek feedback on your performance

Don’t be afraid to ask for your boss’s opinion. Either you’ll learn manager’s negative point-of-view, or you’ll set the stage for a positive outcome on your promotion request.

2.Look for opportunities to solve your boss’s challenges

Even if you have a lot on your plate, work on your manager’s concerns first. This will enhance trust from your boss.

3. Be a visionary

Consider challenges outside your comfort zone. Your new expertise will serve you well with your current employer as well as your future jobs elsewhere.

4. Be assertive – ask for the promotion

If you believe you’re eligible for a promotion, state your case and ask for it.

5. Be aware of your best timing in opportunities

If a promotion will be held up because the next level for you would be your boss’s job, help your boss as much as possible to advance.

But if it’s obvious your boss won’t be promoted or if you’re laboring in a toxic environment, look outside the company for a new job. Make sure you leave for a promotion. Avoid making lateral moves.

Good luck!

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related career tips:

Having Trouble Breaking through the Glass Ceiling? 5 Tips — If you’re having trouble breaking through the glass ceiling, you probably need a change in strategies. There can be several reasons for your struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

Responding to Negative Criticism Requires Professionalism — No one likes being criticized in their work. It’s difficult to hear and it’s understandable why many people make the mistake of being defensive. If you get negative feedback, it’s in your best interest to remain calm and receptive. It’s actually your responsibility – to yourself and the organization.

5 Personality Traits for Personal and Professional Success — Five personality traits are important for overcoming stress and achieving goals academically, professionally and in personal relationships.

Do You Want a Better Break at Work? Here’s How to Get it — Here’s news that benefits both workers and managers: If you want to maximize workday breaks to boost concentration, energy and motivation, here’s new thinking on the subject.

36 Tips: Develop Confidence to Win an Office Tug of War — For people lacking in self-confidence, winning an office tug of war is easier said than done. Unlike leaders, they unknowingly give away their power. One sign is whether you’re winning hearts and minds at work. For instance, in the event of disagreements, are you able to persuade others?

“The best move you can make in negotiation is to think of an incentive the other person hasn’t even thought of – and then meet it.”

-Eli Broad


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy stockimages at

The 22 Dos and Don’ts for Successful Negotiations

No matter what you need to negotiate, there are easy strategies to get anything you want. But you must first remember it’s important to reach a fair compromise – with win-win negotiating skills.

You’ll want both parties to feel positive after the negotiation is complete. In other words, emotional needs for both of you have to be met.

So don’t carelessly let something slip out. Whether you struggle to protect your turf, putting an end to people taking advantage of you, or you’re laboring to get what you want in a transaction, there are basic skills you need to know to find solutions that are acceptable to you and the other person.

It doesn’t matter what the stakes are. Understand that your position is strengthened by having the ability to walk away. The winner is the person who’s best prepared for the deal not even happening.

Reagan_Gorbachev_negotiate_outside_Reykjavik_SummitU.S. President Reagan and Soviet Union General Secretary Gorbachev, The Reykjavik Summit

Even at the highest level, U.S. President Ronald Reagan wasn’t afraid to walk away from the 1986 Reykjavik Summit in Iceland. He and Soviet Union General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev abruptly called it quits.

But they did make progress and reconvened the following year, which resulted in the history-making Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987.

The dos:

  1. Determine goals. Decide on your objectives. Know your bottom line.
  2. Anticipate the desires of your opponent. Think collegially – envision the person as your partner in the deal.
  3. Analyze the assets. What do both of you bring to the table?
  4. Evaluate options. That means for both of you.
  5. If you have a history with the other party, analyze your track record and precedents with the person. What issues have impacted the two of you?
  6. Assess the power you bring into the discussion, and that of the other person.
  7. Anticipate the obvious consequences, the corollaries.
  8. Pay attention to detail. Try to put the other person’s needs first. In that way, the person feels as though you’re listening. Show empathy to the other person’s concerns and problems.
  9. Stay calm, no matter what. You’ll keep the emotional advantage. Focus on issues, not personalities.
  10. Keep in mind plan B. Know your options for a fallback position.
  11. Document the deal – get it in writing immediately.

Understand that your position is strengthened by having the ability to walk away.

The don’ts:

  1. Never bargain with someone using the word, “between.” If you offer a range using this word, customers and vendors will only hear the minimum. Sellers and employees will hear the maximum.
  2. Don’t signal the person that you’re done negotiating by using the phrase, “I think we’re close.” You’ll be giving away your power – the person will believe you’re exhausted and that you put a higher priority on getting an agreement instead of achieving your actual goals.
  3. Don’t get into a bidding war. Brand yourself so that you’re the only party the person should deal with. Don’t negotiate against yourself. If you make an offer, wait for the response. Be careful in using the phrase, “Why don’t you throw out a number?” Usually, the first amount mentioned by a seller is the amount that’s ultimately agreed upon.
  4. If you need time to think, don’t establish at the beginning that you’re the final decision-maker. You’ll get more wiggle room if you indicate there’s another person with whom you must speak.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask what you want – be specific about what you want and don’t want.
  6. Don’t negotiate with a person who doesn’t have authority to sign off on a deal.
  7. Don’t do all the talking. The best results occur when the other person does 90 percent of the talking. That’s accomplished by asking open-ended questions, such as “What are your concerns about what I am suggesting?”
  8. Don’t ignore the person’s body language. Know the green lights.
  9. Don’t argue, but discuss items in which there are disagreements.
  10. Steer clear of form contracts. They are designed for a pre-determined outcome. The agreement must reflect the negotiations.
  11. Don’t forget to prepare. Failure to prepare leads to failure in negotiations.

Good luck.

From the Coach’s Corner, remember in all negotiations, your purpose is to sell your ideas or products. You need to know the five value perceptions that motivate customers to buy; seven steps to higher sales; and the three-step process for overcoming sales objections. They’re all included in this related resource link: The Seven Steps to Higher Sales.

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.”

-Abraham Lincoln


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.