Not all bosses appreciate employees who dare to express conflicting views, particularly in more conservative cultures such as in Asia. Unlike the Western individualist culture where people are strongly encouraged to speak up and assert their personalities, the Asian culture typically frowns on questioning authority and expressing opposing views. Seniority prevails over everything and to disagree with your boss means going against the culture’s norms.
That being said, we’ve seen a gradual shift towards a more open and empowering Asian work culture, fueled in part by social media and the open sharing of values and ideas between people in different parts of the world. So while there are still conservative organisations that expect employees to keep their heads down and do as they’re told, the good news is that there are a growing number of progressive and liberal companies in Asia now, particularly those in the start-up and tech space.
Here are five simple but highly effective ways to tactfully disagree with your boss:
1. Make it constructive
Don’t just disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Back up your perspective with relevant facts, and offer a viable solution to the problem. Being critical without offering any helpful suggestions to resolve the issue will just annoy your boss. Make sure you have something constructive to contribute, and your boss will have incentive to consider your views.
2. Focus on the big picture
In order to ensure your views are relevant, ask yourself whether you are looking at the situation from the company’s perspective. Do your ideas help the company achieve its goals more efficiently? Are your views aligned with the company’s best interests? Disagreeing simply because you don’t personally agree with your boss’s point of view doesn’t make it a relevant reason, and will probably aggravate your boss.
3. Express it with humility
The way you express your views often determine the reaction you get to it. While expressing your perspective, acknowledge that it’s just your point of view. Assure your boss that you still respect his or her views even though you might not necessarily agree with it, and keep the conversation open and positive. Don’t come across as a know-it-all — that’s a surefire way to get in your boss’s bad side.
4. Pick the right time and place
As the saying goes, there’s a time and place for everything. If you’re going to disagree with your boss, don’t do it when he or she is having a bad day. Pick a moment when your boss is relaxed and not rushing to meet deadlines or struggling to manage a work crisis.
On the other hand, if you have a conflicting view during an internal meeting, put it across in a respectful manner so your boss doesn’t feel embarrassed. If it’s a meeting with outsiders, you should wait until you have a chance to speak to your boss in private. Disagreeing with your boss in the presence of third parties will make you (and your organisation) look unprofessional.
5. Sell it
Often when we’re pitching ideas, the way we “sell it” affects how the idea is perceived. Instead of just stating your point of view, sell the benefits of the idea to your boss. This means highlighting the value proposition behind the idea — i.e. the specific advantages it offers and how it will deliver better results than your boss’s original idea. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Would you buy what you’re selling?
Western cultures favour a more direct approach. On the other hand, Asians would prefer to maintain harmony, so expressing disagreement come much harder to them. But as the previous section has illustrated, there are ways to show disagreement without ruffling the feathers of Asian bosses. Now let’s look at the reasons why it’s perfectly fine to share your views at work, whether you agree with them or not.
Why it’s important to speak up at work
Learning how to express valid views and ideas that contradict your boss’s perspective is instrumental towards establishing your professional credibility and honing your leadership skills. If you aspire to progress to the next level in your career, you’ll have to learn to overcome your fear of confrontations.
It builds confidence
It takes confidence to challenge your boss’s ideas, and the more you speak up, the more comfortable you’ll be with it.
You’ll gain respect
It takes courage to contradict one’s direct superior, but being vocal about valid ideas and views for the right reasons will earn you respect not just from your peers, but from your boss as well.
Your boss will remember you
Offering your boss a valuable opinion or idea that makes him or her look good to the big boss will earn you bonus points, and undoubtedly make a memorable impression.
Step out of your comfort zone
You can only grow when you embrace challenges and face intimidating situations and scenarios. If the idea of disagreeing with your boss scares you, that’s a good sign. It means it’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone.
Disagreeing with someone doesn’t have to be awkward or painful. It all boils down to how you say what you’re saying. Do you have your arms crossed when you’re talking? That indicates you’re being defensive. Not a good way to start a conversation. Is your tone neutral, or confrontational? Are you smiling or frowning? Here’s a simple but useful tip: if you’re nervous, take a few deep breaths before saying what you’re about to say. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes.