Disagree with the boss? Some managers say they can't do it. Some won't. Some wish they could. And some say it's not necessary. But in our experience, the boss isn't always right—and sometimes needs feedback to tell him so. Here are some guidelines that can help you give that feedback.
- Keep the conversation private. You don't want to tell your boss she might be wrong in front of your own employees, and you certainly don't want to have that discussion in front of clients or customers. Keeping the discussion private is a way to communicate your respect and to lessen the chance that you or the boss will become defensive, angry, or embarrassed.
- Clarify the present situation before you criticize. Ask questions. If you're still in doubt, describe the process or procedure or decision at issue as you understand it, and ask, "Is this what you want me to do in this situation?" If your manager recognizes that her directives are inconsistent, incorrect, or inefficient, you've given her an opportunity to save face and make a better decision without embarrassment. On the other hand, you may discover (if you listen well) that you've misunderstood how and why a particular decision was made.
- If a problem still exists, be honest and direct. Stick to verifiable facts and be prepared to offer some acceptable solutions. The boss may come around to your point of view without an argument— and, in fact, may praise you for coming up with an effective process improvement.
- Avoid emotional triggers. Most often your boss will not be happy to hear about a problem in any event. But do what you can to avoid making the discussion emotional. Make "I" and "we" statements that define the problem as you face it, not accusations that cast the disagreement in terms of what the boss did wrong. Avoid absolute words like "never" and "always." Your boss should be able to recognize that a problem is a problem and be happy that you're willing to suggest solutions. Even if not, you need to follow your conscience; agreeing to do things you think are dumb or wrong is a lot harder than confronting an angry boss.