When You Don't Agree With Your Boss, How do You Handle Him?

In any work group, onflicts of opinions, disagreement about decisions made, subtle and not-so-subtle ego clashes etc can happen betweenthe subordinates andthe boss. When you don’t agree with your boss, the way to tackle the problem can range from a simple to a dangerously complex way, depending on the complexity of the issue and the personality traits you and your boss have.

There can be so many permutations of personality traits between the boss and the subordinate that can dictate the way the disagreement with the boss is tackled. The boss can be assertive, egoistic, level headed or meek. The subordinate too can be classified likewise. When there is a disagreement between the boss and the subordinate, there can be 16 ways the equation between them that can play in handling the dispute.

Before giving any generic advice on what to do when you don’t agree with the boss, let us just see a few sample combinations to understand how different ways of tacking the conflict can arise in case of a disagreement.

Assertive Boss versus Meek Subordinate

The outcome is obvious. The boss dictates and the subordinate agrees, burying his disagreement down his throat. If the subordinate is proved to be right at the end, he chuckles secretively and boasts about his foresight to his wife!

Meek Boss versus Assertive Subordinate

The subordinate knows well that he can manipulate his boss to bring him to his line of thinking and he can talk his way through to convince the boss; When things go awry, the boss, being the boss, will say, “I told you so; but you were adamant. I always believe in giving a free hand to my subordinates so that they learn from mistakes”!

Egoistic Boss Versus Egoistic Subordinate

A minor clash of the titans will result. For both of them prestige is more important than the facts behind the dispute. When the subordinate takes the bull by the horns, he knows pretty well that if the outcome of the disputed decision does not work to his favor, he may not be in a position to continue in his job for long. Either he has to continue to fight or take a flight.

Egoistic Boss Versus Level Headed Subordinate

The subordinates knows pretty well that he is more right than his boss but also knows that he cannot convince his boss that easily. Being level headed, he can take several recourses to handle the disagreement with the boss. Some of them are given below:

  • When the boss vehemently opposes subordinate’s counter points, the subordinate buys time; He suggests that the matter can be reviewed afresh after a couple of days. This way, there is a fair chance that the ego of the boss cools down and he can see things more objectively in the next review.
  • The subordinate clearly expresses his disagreements politely to his boss at the same time adding a statement like this: “but if you still wish to proceed as it is, I will put forth my full co-operation to you, despite all my objections. You can rest assured about it.” This statement is most likely to buttress the ego of the boss. He may even show willingness to review the matter now.

Level headed boss versus level headed subordinate

Most unlikely combo! But if it exists, it is the best for the organization. The subordinate freely and fearlessly discusses what he disagrees with the boss and the boss listens. They exchange ideas, argue with each other and in the end, common sense prevails.

Thus, obviously the one-to-one equation between the boss and the subordinate can offer so much of variety in tackling the conflicts between boss and the subordinate. We have seen only a few combos in the above analysis and as we saw at the beginning, there is scope for so much more combos in the duo.

Now coming to generic advice to tackle disagreement with the boss.

1) If you are smart and analytical enough, your strategy should be based on what sort of combo exists between you and the boss in the above examples.

2) Irrespective of whether the boss has an upper hand or you have, the most sensible advice is: never rub at the ego of the boss. Whether smart, meek, idiotic or level headed, every person has his ego and would always like it to be buttressed. Even a cold blooded murderer has a justification for what he did and mostly remains unapologetic at that. Diplomacy is the watch word in dealing with the boss; watch your words. Never utter the following, even if you are 100% justified:

“I am more experienced on these matters than you”, “I am sorry to say, you are wrong”. “My boss in my erstwhile company did the same mistake and he had to regret it for life”

3) Though it is very difficult, try to segregate the issue from the personality. After a heated argument and disagreement in opinions, can you exchange a very pleasant “good morning” with him the next day and cut a joke with him across a cup of coffee at the cafeteria?

4) Avoid back-biting. This is another extremely difficult instinct to curtail. Criticizing and joking about the boss with colleagues in hushed tones during lunch time is the past time for most of us. Beware. There will always be black sheep in the crowd.

5) Put it in writing. If you are 100% sure that your boss’ decision or action is detrimental to the overall interest of the company, put it into record by writing in some way – a gist of discussions, or minutes of meeting, or simple hand written notes in the files, or an internal memo, whatever – with the right doze of diplomacy for the boss’ review, with a copy marked to his higher ups, if feasible. This way, you make your genuine objections known to the higher powers to whom the boss is answerable. Though the boss may detest such a move, he cannot but take a fresh review to answer likely questions from his higher-ups.

Even if the boss bulldozes your objections, your view points are there in the file to save your skin in case of a catastrophe. Who knows, this action may even facilitate your elevation to replace your boss!

6) Never underestimate the clout of a “the seemingly weak” boss. If you have a communication channel to subvert your boss and take recourse to higher-ups, your boss too may have his own, through which he can do damage to your career, by distorting the facts. So, unless you are 100% sure and justified, do not try to subvert your boss.

       To sum up, in a disagreement with the boss, the one and final test of fire is your honest answer to this question: “Is my objection based on what is good for the organization and not what is good for my selfish motives and egotistic cravings?”