Disagreeing with your manager is something that is easier talked about than done.
Normally, you will want to be able to state a point whilst avoiding a conversation where your manager’s credibility is damaged.
In some cultures around the world, disagreeing with your manager is severely frowned on; however, in many other cultures, it is much more accepted.
We must also remember that a key skill of a manager is to create conversations that may involve one or more of their direct reports openly disagreeing.
When it comes to disagreeing with the person you report to, the way that you disagree – rather than the act of disagreement itself – is everything.
So, what are the assertiveness skills that will help you retain your positive relationship, even when you both see things in a very different way?
Let’s dive right in…
1. Choose your timing carefully
There will always be times where you might be wise not to disagree with your manager. If they are under a lot of pressure or you are both sitting in a meeting with your manager’s manager, then you will probably find there are better moments to bring up your point.
However, if your manager is encouraging an open discussion or you absolutely believe that ‘now’ is the right time to make your point, then do so whilst keeping the rules of assertive communication in mind.
2. Link your statement to a benefit
Your Manager will always be much more receptive if you can articulate a benefit that your suggestion would bring about.
Saying something like, “I wanted to share a suggestion with you that will really increase our revenues from this account”, or “I have an idea that I wanted to suggest that will, I’m certain, significantly lower our costs on this project,” would instantly attract the attention of most managers.
3. If you disagree, have your alternative idea ready
It’s always easy to ‘knock’ someone else’s idea, but assertive people are positive individuals who have a constructive mindset so, of course, will always be ready to provide a solution as well.
Rather than just saying, “I don’t think it will work”, they will say instead, “I am not convinced that, in the way that it has been proposed, it will work. However, I would like to put forward an idea that will really make a big difference to its success.”
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4. Create 'common ground'
It’s always vital that your manager realises that you are very much on their side when it comes to finding a solution. A really good way of achieving this is by first setting out what you both have in common before then presenting your suggestion. By making sure that you start from a point of agreement, you will find that your manager is much more open to your thoughts.
An example of this common ground approach might be, “Maria, I agree with you about the need to check in more as a team to keep each other up-to-date about what we’re all doing. Where I see things differently is that we should do more of these meetings online, especially as Ofer and Emily are both onsite so much with their clients.”
5. Appeal to your manager’s personality type
Dale Carnegie (pictured right), the grandpappy of influencing, put it best:
“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?'”
If you want your manager to ‘bite’ at your suggestion, rather than bite your head off, then position your opinion in a way that has them saying ‘yes’. If they are logical, have facts, numbers and logically thought-through statements to hand. If they are ‘big picture’ thinkers, then paint pictures that compel them to agree.
As Willy Brandt, the former German Chancellor, made very clear:
“if I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.”
6. Disagree but still be able to commit
There will be times when our suggestion is set to one side and our manager decides to go ahead with their own idea instead.
Although this can be hard to accept – especially if you have done a lot of work trying to convince your manager of the viability of your proposal – you will still need to demonstrate your commitment to the manager, whose final decision it is.
Of course, it will be disappointing to you to have to do this, it is nevertheless an indication of your personal maturity that you can leave the room and be seen to positively support that final decision – and your manager – in the wider community. However, if a manager consistently disregards your suggestions in favour of their own, then you may have to consider whether it might be time to move on in your career and work for another manager who is much more collaborative in their decision-making.