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How to disagree with your boss — and not lose your job

Maxine Mann, president of Teknion U.S.Maxine Mann, president of Teknion U.S.
Maxine Mann, president of Teknion U.S.Courtesy of Teknion

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you disagree with your boss? is written by Maxine Mann, president of Teknion U.S.

To disagree with your boss, you first must prepare. As a boss, I value healthy friction — which can include disagreement and varying points of view — among my multidisciplinary team. I value their willingness to be candid and transparent as we discuss issues. If they are uncomfortable disagreeing with me, then I have the wrong people. Or they have the wrong boss.

But a boss doesn’t want to hear the opinion of someone who speaks off the cuff, without preparation. Passion without precision is worth little in a dynamic decision-making environment. By painstakingly preparing, you can disagree thoughtfully and with conviction, supported by facts, a dose of empathy and by clearly articulating anticipated next steps.

First, you must be thoughtful. If you’ve done your homework, there’s a very good chance you are more informed on the topic than your boss. You must then take a deep breath, and thoughtfully lay out your case in a manner that is on point and easy to understand. Next, you really need to care about the topic you are tackling. If your research makes it clear that taking the opposite side from your boss is — in your mind — absolutely the right course of action, you can then speak persuasively and with conviction. If it doesn’t appear to matter much to you, it won’t matter at all to her.

Of course, speaking strongly is easy when supported by facts and data. Unless your disagreement is on a totally subjective topic, facts help you articulate your argument. Disagreements that are purely emotional, and not supported by facts, can quickly get out of hand. There is no room for being overly emotional. It hurts your credibility and risks losing your audience — and then you’ll never win her over.

Also, a dose of empathy never hurts. You know how many things you’re juggling; imagine the responsibilities of your boss. She can’t be aware of every aspect of the issue, and will appreciate your careful preparation. Empathy also opens the door for laying out what you expect next steps should be, if your advice is followed.

And if it isn’t followed? Get over it and move on. You win some, you lose some. All you can expect is to have your opinion heard and considered. You’re a part of a team, and must do all you can to support her ultimate decision (unless you feel it is unethical). Even if you didn’t win her over, know that the decision making process was enhanced if your argument was strong, compelling, and clearly made with the best interests of the business in mind.

Prepare prudently, and your boss will appreciate your opinion. Even if it counters hers.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you disagree with your boss?

7 ways to effectively disagree with your boss by Liza Landsman, CMO of E-Trade Financial.

4 ways to (successfully) persuade your boss by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

3 tips to make your voice heard at work by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

How to argue effectively at work by Kathy Collins, Chief Marketing Officer of H&R Block.

5 ways to (nicely) disagree with your boss by Barbara Dyer, President and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

Why it’s always ok to disagree with your boss by Pontish Yeramyan, founder and CEO of Gap International.