How to Disagree with Your Boss

I am unwrapping posts from the archives and mixing the old with the new. Enjoy this post from the past.

"Everybody knows turnover at the top means upheaval. But new research shows just how bad your chances of keeping your job are." With this lead-in, the authors of a May 2007, Harvard Business Review article, "Surviving Your New CEO" quickly caught my attention.

 iStockphoto

iStockphoto

Turnover at the top is a fact of life in any organization and the authors provide steps you can take to survive, and even thrive, with a new leader.  <If you are not a HBR subscriber, you can read the executive summary here. >

One word of advice from the authors was to "study the CEO's working style" and one anecdote in particular caught my attention. In this, an employee with a reputation for being blunt asked a new CEO how he should disagree with him. Caught the CEO off guard and sure caught my attention. Wow - if there is one area fraught with uncertainty, indecision and well, land mines, this is it. 

So, how do you approach your boss when you don't agree with him or her? More importantly, how do you do it to ensure you are heard and not harm the relationship? If you have worked for someone for any period of time you probably have it figured out but just how painful was it to get there?

Let's say that some of my learning over my years of work have been, well, less than pleasant. My approach, refined over time, has to been to watch, observe and generally work to figure out the working style of my boss and then adjust mine accordingly. I worked to figure it out. Now, what if I had just taken the route of the "blunt" employee and flat out asked? Wouldn't that have saved me some pain and misery and increased my chances of being heard much sooner?

Blunt employee? No, I think he was rather sharp.