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When the boss Is dead wrong

Seek gentle ways to correct, not contradict

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in Office Management

Going against the boss is never easy, but in rare circumstances it’s necessary. You don’t want to get caught withholding information or letting higher-ups base decisions on faulty data.

That doesn’t mean you should call attention to every little mistake you notice. In many cases, you’re better off keeping quiet and letting events take their course. If you repeatedly point out when bigwigs err, you may make enemies who resent your smarty-pants attitude. Your well-intentioned corrections can come across as unwelcome contradictions.

Apply these three tests to determine when to speak up against the boss:

1. Repercussions. What’s the impact of the boss’ screw up? Who will get hurt? If the matter at its worst only represents a minor setback, then perhaps it’s best to let the boss live and learn.

2. Ethics. Are you troubled by the ethical stance your boss expects you to take? In a choice between speaking out against unsavory business practices or blindly following orders, your conscience should come first.

3. Your image. Correcting a boss’s blunder should advance your standing, not hurt it. If you’re known as a show-off, don’t reinforce that reputation by constantly pouncing on every little slip-up you catch. But if you’ve been told you lack attention to detail, then demonstrating your command of a complex set of facts can work to your advantage.

Once you decide to challenge the boss, choose the most tactful way to say “you’re dead wrong”:

Play the scientist. Say, “Let’s test that hypothesis” or, “Here’s a suggestion.” Then express your concern as if you’re lining up elements of a brain teaser. Conclude by saying, “I’m having trouble seeing how all this fits together. Can you help?”

Chip away with questions. Keep summarizing the boss’s position and then pose questions. Examples: “Does your calculation include this quarter’s revised figures?” or, “Have you factored in the cost of overtime?”

Find the source. Inquire where your boss got her information (“That’s an interesting number. Where did you get it?”). Then ask, “What’s your assessment of the accuracy of those numbers?” After you hear the answer, respond, “I have data that indicate...” Rather than insist your source trumps your boss’s, explain why you trust your information.

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