How to Change Your Boss's Mind Without Losing Your Job
Conflict with a superior can be career-ending, but few tactics can make it far more bearable. When you disagree with your manager, it can be challenging. How do you argue with someone who almost definitely recruited you—and who has the power to dismiss you?
If you say something, you risk being viewed as complicated or even adversarial. If you remain silent, you can appear ambivalent or complacent. Rebecca Vertucci, career coach and principal at the Vertucci Group, says, "I think we have a lot of anxiety about bringing up competing ideas because we think it would cause conflict."
"However, your boss wants you to succeed. We're frequently shocked when we're able to say something and it doesn't go as badly as we expected."
Bring your expertise and point of view to the table—but do so strategically: The employer recruited you because they think you're a valuable commodity, so use it wisely.
Step 1: Get the timing correct.
Bringing anything up at the wrong time will spell disaster for whatever problem you're trying to solve.
"I believe what happens is that people feel their opinion is unimportant, so they bite their tongue a few times," says David Couper, a Los Angeles-based career and job specialist. "Then they're in a meeting and, in the heat of the moment, they disagree. Then things get really hot."
Choose the best time to talk about it—probably in a private conversation.
"The best way to get a Big Five partner was to catch him in the hallway between meetings and give him two to three facts on why I disagreed," Couper explains. "Nine times out of ten, I'd be successful."
Step 2: Figure out what motivates your boss.
Understanding what the other side values is crucial in every negotiation. Being able to reflect back to them that you understand what's important to them is the best way to get them to listen. This will necessitate some investigation on your part.
"You may need to ask some good questions because you may not understand what's behind the decision or action with which you disagree," says Tammy Googler Loeb, a Boston-area career and executive coach.
So, "you have to grasp what you're disagreeing with at the root" before voicing an alternative opinion. You may use this knowledge to frame your idea in a way that differs from theirs but still serving your boss's overall goal or objective.
Step 3: Carry out your research.
You must be certain that your manager has made a mistake before bringing it up. Bear in mind that he possibly has more knowledge than you and that he may be right. Double-check the problem since incorrectly flagging anything would just make you seem out of contact. You'll also need to come up with at least one potential answer to present. Try to back up your ideas with data; you may be able to provide information that your boss lacks. Having a plan on hand, whether or not it is accepted, will show your initiative, give you credibility, and enable you to turn the discussion away from the mistake and toward making things right.
Step 4: Examine your motives
Until you go knocking on your boss's threshold, consider if it's really necessary to bring up her error. To avoid appearing whining, critical, or undermining, it's probably best to let minor issues slide. This will also make any potential measures you make even more successful. Consider whether you're either being nitpicky or being contradictory by speaking up. You may be about to make things a whole lot worse without even realizing it. However, if there's a good reason to be concerned, or if the error might damage your boss's reputation, she might be pleased to hear your complaints.
Step 5: Make it their idea.
If you present facts in the right way, you may be able to persuade your boss to change her mind—and allow her to reach her own conclusion. "You sort of consider what they're thinking (even though you don't agree with it)," Couper says. "Then you come back to them to speak about other topics, and if you're smart enough, they come up with a new idea, which is kind of what you wanted." "They've simply changed their minds as a result of the knowledge you've provided."
Don't give up if this strategy takes more than one conversation. To make this happen, plan on holding a few discussions over time.
Step 6: Assist them in looking their best.
"When managers and bosses deal with their staff, they bear a lot of the brunt of what isn't working and the complaints," says Vertucci. Remember that your boss, like anyone else, wants to look nice, and if you can assist her in doing so, you'll have a better chance of succeeding.
"You will disagree with them and provide constructive criticism, but if they believe you are trying to help them succeed, they will be more receptive to your suggestions."
Step 7: Respect and modesty should be shown.
If necessary, meet with your boss in private to not make the situation public and embarrass her in front of others. If you can't talk privately because it's an emergency, raise the issue politely and in a way that doesn't jeopardize the chain of command or jeopardize your boss's role. Allow it if he cuts you off in the middle of a conversation and brings it up again behind closed doors later.
Begin by respectfully requesting permission to address a sensitive topic. This gives your manager a chance to catch her breath before inviting you to proceed. If all is in order, move on in a respectful manner. Being opinionated, gloating, or behaving like you know better than your boss will "go down like a lead balloon," while maturity, empathy, and modesty will possibly ease the situation.
Even if you're inspired to talk because of how your boss's mistake would affect you directly, it's important to remain professional and focused on the company. The last thing you want to do is come across as though your personal ambitions are more important than the company's, so concentrate on how your boss's error can affect the team's priorities and the company's task.
Step 8: Take Care of Your Words
When using terms like "wrong" and "mistake," be cautious. It will look as if you're trying to "get a win" if you use an "I told you so" tone and blunt language that assigns blame. If your boss feels you've come to humiliate or expose him, he'll either dig in or, worse, retaliate. As a result, be courteous and tactful. Instead of an argument, lead your supervisor into a problem-solving session by using less dynamic, more collaborative vocabulary. Make it as simple for your boss as you can to accept your ideas without offending him or losing face.
Step 9: State Your Fear With Caution
You could be justified in raising your concerns if you think your boss's mistake has legal, financial, or health and safety consequences. Before meeting your boss's boss, the HR department is a good place to try out your ideas in private. Remember to keep your emotions in control and your language in check. Keep in mind that your own credibility is on the line.
If your boss's decisions are particularly serious or even illegal, you must express your complaints in writing. You might wish to take more direct action as well, but be careful because whistleblowing can have significant implications in and of itself.
Step 10: Accept Responsibility for Your Mistake
You will be likely to discover that you made a mistake at some point during this phase. Your response to being corrected is just as important as how you inform your boss that he is mistaken. Accept the correction graciously and, if possible, apologize. Otherwise, you risk jeopardizing your working relationship with your boss.
Step 11: Don't leave it until the last minute to make a decision.
Whatever the case might be, make your feelings known while there is still a chance to act.
"Sometimes people will bring up a dissenting point of view after the fact, when no one can do anything about it," Gooler Loeb says.
However, it's possible that it's already too late—and you just don't have enough details to tell. But, to the extent possible, act quickly.
Step 12: Expect to lose.
There's always the possibility that you'll say what you're thinking, and nothing will change. And it would be best if you psychologically plan for such an eventuality.
"Your argument may be understood, but it may not be understood well enough to affect anything," Gooler Loeb says. "It doesn't mean you'll lose your job; it just means you'll have to do what your boss thinks is the right course of action."
If that's the case, go in with a good attitude. Gooler Loeb says, "Take the lemon and make lemonade." "Even if you disagree with it, try to benefit from it or understand it. Trying to comprehend it will at the very least allow you to support it."
Step 13: Let Go
Let Go Perhaps you were unable to persuade her, or she is unable to change her mind. Whatever the cause, it's normally better to bow out gracefully and avoid bringing up the subject again until it becomes apparent that she's "sticking to her weapons."
In certain cases, it's a good idea to keep track of the fact that you voiced a complaint, just in case future inquiries are needed.
Step 14: Be prepared to leave
If you're in a state where you can't seem to agree with your boss on something, and she never seems to want your input, it may be time to look for a job where you can appreciate your boss a little more. Alternatively, a platform where your thoughts can be heard.
The Value of Saying "Stop"
You could avoid a catastrophe, save a reputation, or secure a career by summoning the courage to tell your boss when he's wrong, all of which could make you a more desirable employee. It may be difficult to speak up, but it is crucial because unchallenged authority may lead to disaster.
In the aviation industry, for example, effective communication inside the cockpit is critical to safety. Just as captains must listen to their subordinates, flight engineers must be prepared to inform their captains when they are incorrect.
The industry changed its procedures after researchers discovered that entrenched hierarchies were preventing this. It empowered subordinates to challenge their supervisors and demanded that crews perform post-flight debriefings to state and figure out what went wrong or what went right and what could have been done better. Over the past two decades, human-caused safety errors have decreased by half, and most captains today oppose cockpit hierarchies in favor of free, two-way contact with their coworkers.
In comparison, according to a 2013 report of the US healthcare industry, 440,000 Americans die each year as a result of certain medical errors that are preventable such as giving the wrong prescription or operating on the wrong body part. Some of these catastrophic results arise because failures in operating rooms are treated differently than in the aviation industry.
Nurses don't always communicate their complaints to doctors, and anesthetists aren't always listened to by surgeons, for example. "Bosses" are widely respected, and junior peers are often afraid of being ostracised or disciplined if they express their concerns.
However, when you don't speak up about a boss's mistakes, you become part of the problem. Then you're just a part of the solution.