It's inevitable. No matter how well you work with your supervisor, there will come a time when you simply do not agree with her or his approach. This can be a tricky situation: do you bite your tongue and go with the flow? Or do you speak up and risk seeming uncooperative or unwilling? I've found that by following a few guidelines you can navigate this territory and strengthen your working relationship with your boss in the process:
Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em
The Gambler is right: not every battle is worth fighting. Understand the stakes and know the decision makers (there may be several) before you begin. And if at any point your supervisor gives you a clear "no," don't pursue the discussion further. Know when to walk away.
Listen and Ask Questions
This is usually all it takes to begin a constructive and honest conversation. If you hear something with which you don't agree, take a minute to process it, then ask a few follow up questions to make sure you fully understand your supervisor's point of view. According to psychologist Robert Cialdini's “Six Principles of Influence,” by demonstrating active listening you prepare your audience to better listen to you. Express your opinion or concerns in a professional manner. Even if your supervisor doesn't change her or his mind, you've at least shown honesty and critical thinking.
Ask Permission to Research an Alternative
Even if you already have a suggestion for an alternate approach, ask permission to spend time looking into it. If your supervisor agrees, look for data or examples supporting your position; a little research can make the difference between a "hunch" and a well-formed position.
Frame it as a Learning Opportunity
At this point you've listened, you've voiced your opinion, you've presented a reasonable alternative... but you haven't quite convinced your boss. If you still feel strongly about your idea, try framing it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Ask your supervisor to take what Peter Sims calls a "little bet" in order for you to test your idea. If you're successful, everyone wins! If you fail, everyone still wins! You'll learn from the experience. Offer to debrief to share what you learn, regardless the outcome.
Share the Credit
Assuming you are given the space to try your idea and it pans out (good job!), remember your supervisor deserves credit and thanks for letting you try your suggested approach. In fact, don't even think of it as "yours;" you may have come up with the idea but your supervisor made the space for it to be put into action. Your success is also a reflection of his or her leadership skills. Be gracious, and celebrate the victory together. You'll build trust and strengthen your professional relationship.
Don't Get Discouraged
You could do everything above and still not change your boss' mind. Don't get discouraged and don't take it personally. No matter the outcome, if you use these guidelines you can feel good about standing up for yourself when you and your supervisor don't see eye to eye.
What tactics have you used to successfully disagree?