We are all different and thus have different opinions and ideas about issues, processes and systems. At times, we disagree significantly with a decision made by the boss, particularly if we perceive that the decision impacts us negatively. When we do disagree, how we communicate that difference becomes all important – there is simply no logic attached to making your boss angry through an impulsive emotional response. A measured, thought-through approach can produce a context where further consideration of the issue becomes possible. The following principles apply:
- You, your boss or both of you may not be aware of or may not have considered all the factors – limited information hinders decision-making success. Consideration needs to be given to information that may have been missed.
- Emotion limits objectivity – if either party is emotionally involved in the decision, the ability to approach the situation with an objective mind becomes limited. The emotion must be resolved first.
- Feelings need to be communicated appropriately – emotional outbursts build walls and cause extreme discomfort and stress. Using “I-messages” to share your feelings create better possibilities for resolution (an “I-message” is a statement where you express how you feel in an unemotional way).
The Conversation Structure
You: “Hi Sam (the boss). Thank you for communicating your decision to the team. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all aspects of the decision at this stage and maybe I am missing something, I would like to understand your thinking on the issue. Could we meet for 14 minutes so that I can get some insight into your reasons?”
Sam: “Sure, let’s do it now”.
You: “I am of the understanding that the decision was based on the following things … – am I correct in my understanding or am I missing something?”
(Listen for things you might have missed and any additional pieces of information that were not presented previously. Check for understanding before offering your viewpoint)
You: “I see. I was not aware of that. May I ask the following?”
Sam: “Sure – go ahead”.
You: “I am concerned that the decision may have the following unintended effect … – how are we going to mitigate that this doesn’t happen?” (Note the use of an “I-message” and the inclusive word – “we”)
Sam: “Good point – what do you suggest?”
You: “Well, if we could perhaps modify your decision in the following ways …, I think that we could prevent this from happening”.
(Note that there has not been an attack on the manager for making the decision that he/she did, as all you are doing is facilitating a discussion on his/her decision. Also note that your motive is to come up with the best decision and not to prove your point or show the manager that his/her decision was a bad one)
Getting to the best decisions is tough, particularly when the decision potentially affects others negatively. Be aware that your boss probably struggles with this and assist by being understanding and offering insight in a non-threatening way.
When you disagree with a decision made by your boss, do the following exercise:
- Write down the decision made by your boss, indicating all the possible reasons for the decision. When you have what you consider a full list of reasons, ask yourself: “Are there any more factors that could have potentially influenced the decision?”
- Write down all the possible positive outcomes of the boss’s decision – elaborate on each one to show impact.
- Write down all the possible negative outcomes of the boss’s decision – elaborate on each one to show impact.
- Bearing the above impact study in mind, write down why you feel that the boss’s decision is not the best one (note the use of the emotional word “feel” here as it is important to identify and deal with your own emotions in this process first).
- Write down your suggestions that will help form the ‘perfect’ decision.
- Now, with organisational effectiveness as the motive, approach your boss in the following way:
- Explain that you want the best for the department and the organisation, but that you have some concerns that the decision may not achieve the required result.
- State what you believe were the reasons for the decision – ask the boss if you have perhaps missed a factor or two in your reasoning.
- Outline what you believe the positive impact of the decision will be.
- Outline what you believe the negative impact of the decision will be.
- State that you wish to work with the boss to limit any potential negative results (note the inclusiveness of this approach).
- Discuss alternatives, always keeping the departmental and organisational purposes in mind (not your own agenda).
- Offer your suggestions carefully and with deep respect, always asking the boss what he/she feels about your suggestion (remember that the boss probably has a better view of the ‘big picture’ than you do).
Thank the boss for considering your view (even if he/she still doesn’t agree with you).
For further insights on how to communicate with your boss, get my book “How do I address my boss when…?” on www.stretchforgrowth.com