the right (and productive) way to disagree with your manager

Picture this. You have just finished giving a great presentation on how to improve the operational efficiency of your team. Everybody is nodding in approval and giving you a thumbs-up, but your manager shoots down your idea. You disagree with the explanation your manager gives as you believe you have researched the topic thoroughly before coming up with the solution. But should you express that thought aloud? Is there a right way to disagree with your manager without inviting career harm?

Yes, there is and here are five ways to constructively disagree with your manager:

1. Agree to disagree, if the need arises:

When you join a new company or get promoted, the atmosphere is generally congenial and the stakes are low. That is the time to make a psychological contract for candor. If you feel your manager is averse to taking suggestions from subordinates, discuss how you can bring in new ideas or different viewpoints and how it’s likely to help the team. When moments of disagreement do surface, this verbal contract becomes a point of reference for the manager and he/she is less likely to take offence.

2. Demonstrate mutual intent:

Even during disagreement, it is important to show that your manager’s goals and your goals are fundamentally aligned. When you show the right intent before you launch into reasons for dissent, you are far less likely to evoke a negative reaction from your manager.

3. Get the setting right:

Disagreeing with your manager in public or embarrassing them in front of their superiors is sure to cost you heavily. Remember, your manager earned that position – with expertise and experience. Even if you feel your manager has made an obvious mistake, point it out in private. More than saying the right things at the right moment, it is important to not say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

4. Back your argument with data:

Without data to make a strong case, you not only risk irking your manager’s support but also stand to lose your reputation that you have painstakingly built over the years. Using data also lends another major advantage during times of disagreement – it keeps the issue at the forefront, preventing the discussion from going off-track, or worse, getting personal. Workplace conflict is inevitable – making it productive is an art.

5. Know when to let things slide:

For reasons beyond your control, sometimes an argument may not look like it’s going to end in your favor, even if you get all the above tips right. Accept it respectfully and move on – experience matters and you may not be able to see the implications of your idea the way your manager does. Or it could simply be a case of a good day vs. bad day at work. Backing down from an argument at the right time does two things – it reinforces your image of a ‘sensible’ person and might prompt the manager to reconsider his/her decision. A definite win-win for you.

Don’t lose sight of the 3 Cs for best results during a conflict

Managed well, productive conflict can even drive innovation, progress, and growth, helping companies thrive - not perish. When disagreeing with your manager the next time, remember the 3 Cs – be courteous, convincing, and caring, and see how productive conflict can pay you back.

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