S. Davies is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.
How Do I Speak Up at Work Without Upsetting My Boss?
You should have the right to speak your mind and disagree with your boss, as long as you communicate in a fair and respectful manner. These tips will show you how to have a calm, rational conversation with your boss when you want to speak up and assert your point of view.
Do you perceive any potential disagreement as an inevitable confrontation, especially if you happen to be disagreeing with the person who signs your paycheck? As a result, instead of voicing your opinion, do you stay silent and keep your thoughts to yourself?
There are several problems with not speaking up when you disagree with your boss or your co-workers on an issue. For example, you may have the solution to a problem that your organization has been struggling with. Holding it back because you fear that others might disagree with you doesn’t move your organization forward.
Disagreements are an important part of workers coming together to solve problems. The truth is that group discussions, brainstorming sessions and emergency meetings shouldn’t escalate into confrontations or accusations of insubordination. How you choose to present your thoughts and ideas can help determine the tone and flow of the meeting. You can’t control someone else’s behavior, but you can control your own.
Here are some tips to help you to find common ground while standing your ground when you disagree with your boss:
1. Seek to Understand First—Then to Be Understood
The first step in creating the ideal environment for conflict-free conversations is to spend more time listening than talking. That doesn’t mean that you can’t speak up and hold the floor on your own. It means that when you do speak up you’ll have a solid understanding of other people’s perspectives and you’ll be able to empathetically and respectfully present your perspective.
2. Begin With a Positive Statement Rather Than a Negative One
Find something that you agree with about the other person’s perspective, acknowledge your agreement and then add your perspective. “I agree that we need to cut back on our overhead expenses. And I’d like to also add that we must be careful not to reduce the administrative team’s operating efficiency by reducing their hours, removing equipment or eliminating the supplies they need to do their jobs.”
3. Be Mindful of Your Tone and Body Language
Are you making non-aggressive eye contact (no squinting or furrowed brows)?
Are your arms held loosely at your sides? Or are your arms crossed tightly over your chest?
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Are you fidgeting and drumming your fingers (a sign of passive aggression and impatience)?
Pointing your fingers at other people during a conversation is considered very rude and threatening in most civilized settings. Keep you hands and fingers relaxed and open, rather than tightly closed or pointed. You'll find that it is much easier to disagree with your boss without getting fired if you pay attention to your body language and gestures.
If you are worried that disagreeing with your boss will get you canned and leave you jobless, you could also try this trick: stand at an angle when you are talking. According to some body language experts, by doing so, you'll be making difficult conversations feel less threatening. By standing at an angle, instead of face to face, you can take the edge off any tension.
4. Show That You Respect Your Supervisor's Perspective
|Instead of saying . . .||Say . . .|
I disagree with you.
In my opinion . . .
May I share a different perspective?
You can't do that!
What would happen if we tried . . .
5. Stay Focused on the Issue at Hand
Remember, you're working together to solve a problem for the good of the organization, not show off how smart or clever you are. If you’re only speaking because you feel that’s the only way to get noticed, you’ll risk coming off as insincere, dogmatic, and stubbornly attached to your own ideas. It takes courage to disagree with your supervisor, especially if you're worried about getting fired. That's all the reason more to keep the conversation directed towards the real issues.
6. Document (Take Minutes of) the Meeting
That way everyone’s contributions to the discussion will form part of the project's progression, from beginning to end. Make sure that when the minutes are distributed, people have a chance to clarify or correct any errors. If you do speak up and end up in a disagreement with your boss, and then unfortunately get fired from your job, having a record of the conversation may assist you if you choose to talk legal action. If you are fired for speaking out and you can demonstrate that your message was delivered in a calm, rational, and deliberate manner, you can challenge the notion that by speaking out you were being insubordinate.
The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.
— Anthony Robbins
Speaking your mind shouldn’t lead to being fired for insubordination. In fact, disagreements in the workplace can be a sign of healthy communication habits between team members at all levels.
The approach you take, the choices you make in how you communicate your ideas and the attitude you bring to the table can help you build good rapport with your supervisor, your co-workers and those you supervise and manage.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 S Davies