Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Disagree With Your Boss

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn - a public relations and communications agency, has written a short column for Fortune about how to disagree with your boss.   I've written extensively about how leaders need to encourage dissenting views.   Often, I'm asked how subordinates can express dissent constructively and effectively.   I n this article, Bloomgarden offers a few tips.  First, she argues that one should stick to the facts.  Avoid making your case based on intuition or emotion.  Provide a sound analysis of the situation with data to support your argument.  Second, identify the costs and benefits of your proposal, as well as the costs and benefits of your boss' proposed course of action.  Try to look at both scenarios in an evenhanded way.  Finally, she says that you should "own what you're suggesting."   In other words, be specific about your willingness to take responsibility for the alternative solution, but be transparent and realistic about what you promise.  Set expectations clearly, but realistically. 

I would add a few other recommendations.  First, you have to know your audience.  How does your boss make decisions?  What types of arguments are most persuasive?   How does he or she like to see data presented?   Second, study the history of the issue.  Understand what has been tried in the past, and if it failed, examine why it did not work.  Third, seek allies and build coalitions. Don't go it alone.  Try to persuade others first, before you turn to your boss.  There's strength in numbers.  Fourth, identify and work through key gatekeepers.  Who has the boss' ear and trust?  How can you work through that person to persuade and influence the boss?  Finally, focus first on divergent thinking before trying to persuade people that their idea is not well-suited to address this particular problem. In other words, ask questions before proposing your solution.  Try to encourage the boss to think a bit differently about the situation.  Encourage them to explore other options.  That inquiry-based approach may be more effective than listing the deficiencies with their proposed course of action. 

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