How to Handle a Disagreement With a Superior
We’ve all been there. Afraid to speak out against an idea that doesn’t make sense to us. But we sit quietly nodding our heads agreeing while gritting our teeth. "What would they think of me if I questioned them?" "Will I be humiliated by thinking differently?" "They are the senior employees they must know best, right?".
If it feels like a touchy subject, then maybe it is. How can you disagree with the powerful people in your organization in a way that gives your thoughts a fair shot? Here are steps you can take to make sure you are comfortable disagreeing with someone above you in the pecking order, so next time you won’t have to think twice.
Take time to think it over
Before jumping in headfirst into verbal warfare, ask yourself if your concerns must be addressed now. A good rule of thumb is to sleep on it. Doing so provides ample time to think your counterpoints through and examine them more thoroughly. Maybe your initial concerns have already been considered, or you missed the details that would ease your discomfort. If you still feel that there is a strong case against your superior, then bring it to their attention. Not only will you be more prepared for their pushback, but you will also likely receive praise from your supervisor for putting thought into potential holes in their plan. Of course, if there is no time to wait and you have information that can help make a more informed decision then bring it to light using some of the other techniques we have outlined in this article.
Identify shared outcomes
Chances are you and your peer want the best outcome for your team. Make it clear the shared desired outcome when giving your take on the matter. For example, say trying to limit the number of products stuck in your bottleneck process. You could start by saying something such as, “We both agree we need to reduce downtime of our products in the bottleneck, but I think if we focused on the individuals doing the work rather than the technical aspects we have a greater chance of achieving our goals.” When you start with what you can both agree on, your disagreement is more likely to be confirmed as favorable from the standpoint of the superior. It’s easier to work with others when you can relate shared outcomes with one another.
Refrain from judgment
Before offering counter advice, refrain from attacking the plans in a way that could set-off your superior. Instead of saying “that’s so stupid” or “you are a fool to think that,” say “that’s going to be tough on our project team” or “have you thought about it like this?” When you don’t start with an insult on their line of thinking or even character in some grotesque incidences, you can expect to be perceived more seriously. Speak from a place of facts and reason. While emotion has its place, this is not the instance to use it.
Recognize their authority
When it's all said and done the person in power is going to make the final decision, so you must accept that. Confirm you know they are in charge to show that you know your place when it comes to the final say. While it's important to acknowledge their choices, don’t backtrack from your own opinion. Doing so will make you appear uncertain in further decisions. You want to maintain your self-respect while showing respect for their decision. Accept their final decision regardless of whether they sided with you. Showing support even when things don’t go your way is the sign of a true team member.
Speaking up to your superior isn’t easy. You worry about how you will be perceived by those that hold power over you. Still, you can try to disagree respectfully and validly so that your words hold water (even if you still feel unheard). Most of the time your disagreement will be received positively and determined as good questioning of the subject at hand. Forcing your superior to explain an aspect of the plan they have not examined thoroughly makes them a better teammate too. So, do not be afraid to disagree, just make sure it's done respectfully.