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Disagree Productively

Author: Michael Scaletti

It's naive to think that you are always going to agree with your managers and bosses in a work environment. It's common to assume that if you disagree with your boss that you should stay quiet about it, as expressing that disappointment can end up being career limiting. That can be true if your management is bad, but if they are competent they hired you for your perspective and expertise and they expect you to use them.

You can absolutely disagree with your boss and express that disagreement. The key is to make sure that the intent behind that disagreement is improving work for both of you.

Here are some ways to ensure disagreements enhance your career, rather than detract from it:

Don't be Disagreeable

It's okay to disagree. It's not, however, valuable to your career to be disagreeable. Keep your emotions in check. Don't be aggressive or snarky. No one wants to be talked down to or attacked. Instead, make sure that you are clearly and calmly expressing why you disagree and what your alternative is.

Avoid Personal Attacks

Always address the issue and not the person. You may have frustrations with the way someone has been operating, but ensure that you address the issue of that operation without implying a character flaw in the person. Most people, probably even your boss, are trying their best. Keep that in mind when you provide your feedback.

Use Clear Communication

Make sure you spend some time before talking to your boss going over how you are going to communicate the issue. If you cannot clearly express what is bothering you or what you disagree with than they will not be able to address it. If there is a coworker you trust, maybe discuss the issue with them before going to your boss. If they are confused about your issue, odds are your boss will be too.

Present Alternatives

It's easy to be against something. We see it all the time in politics and other fronts. If you are going to tear down an idea, process, or system, make sure you have something better to put up in its place. Offer solutions. Otherwise you're just being contrary.


Communication is a two way street. You need to be able to clearly state your issues and solutions, but you also need to listen to and seek to understand the perspective of the other person. It is possible that whatever system or process with which you have a disagreement is done for a specific reason, and once you understand that reason you will find the issues you have solved.

Don't Be a Sycophant

Your boss needs to hear your concerns and problems. If you are always simply agreeing with them, you will not contribute to progress and improvement, and in the end that will hold back your career far more than a simple disagreement ever could. Stand up for yourself, and your ideas.

It's possible, even likely, that at some point you will work for someone with a fragile ego and a closed mind, and they will resent or even retaliate against disagreements. That's on them, not on you, and it will be an indicator that you need to leave that organization. Until then, give your boss the benefit of the doubt, and don't be afraid to express yourself, even in disagreement.

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