Management & Leadership

How to argue with your boss without getting fired

Jul 24, 2018

Confronting your boss is never easy but if done correctly it can seriously benefit your working relationship and overall career.

Key takeaways

  • While confronting your boss isn’t always easy, if done correctly, it can help you further your career without getting you fired.
  • Before approaching your boss make sure that your concern is valid and not a personal irritation.
  • Be sure to select the right time and place when confronting your boss.
  • Don’t forget to focus on the positives when mentioning the negatives.
  • Make sure that you fully understand the problem before bringing it to your boss’ attention.
  • When confronting your boss be sure to focus on results and offer solutions to problems.
  • Respect your boss’ decision and know when to walk away.

It’s no secret that confrontation can be tricky. Challenging someone and remaining calm and constructive at the same time is not always easy, especially when that someone is your boss.

For most of us keeping our heads down at work is the order of the day, but according to employment experts, this is not necessarily a good way to further one’s career. Kurt Gillam, Director at global recruitment company Kelly Services, has the following to say, “Let’s be honest, you are never going to agree with 100 per cent of the decisions your leader makes. The question is how to get comfortable enough to speak your mind without damaging your career. If you are a ‘yes’ person, you may not be stepping on anyone’s toes, but you will never rise to the challenge and grow as an employee either.” Here are six steps that will help you share your opinion without getting fired.

1. Prepare and anticipate

Before you start, ask yourself if this is a valid concern or not. If what is happening is impacting your effectiveness on the job or causing emotional distress it’s time to speak up. On the other hand, if you’re simply irritated because your boss never refills the water cooler perhaps it’s best not to say anything. Chaz Pitts-Kyser, career coach and author of Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College, stresses the importance of knowing if something is a mere irritation or a real complaint-worthy problem, “Make sure this is a conflict and not a pet peeve. If a boss is doing something that affects you emotionally or prevents you from doing your job effectively, that is a real conflict.”

Once you’ve established that the matter at hand is, in fact, a real problem then it is vital that you go in prepared. Be sure to have all the facts and try to anticipate what your boss will say in return. Gather as much insight as you can to back up your case and clearly define the problem. This will help you to make an impact for the right reasons, as a valuable member of the team.

2. Carefully Consider the time and place

Sometimes it’s not only about what you say—it’s about when and where you say it. While we are not advocating procrastination, it is important to carefully consider time and place before leaping into any confrontation. Your boss is unlikely to appreciate being challenged in public or in front of their superiors. Instead, schedule a one-on-one where you can discuss the matter in private.

3. Start positive

While it is important to clearly define the problem and get straight to point, your boss might not appreciate a blunt approach. It is important to start off on a positive note. Mention what is working well, before diving straight into what isn’t.  If you only state the issues you risk being seen as negative, critical and unable to see the bigger picture. Rather comment on what is working before focussing on what isn’t.

4. Ask questions and listen to the answers

Bosses are often privy to the bigger picture. Before you march into their office stating your case, be sure that you are likely right. Make sure that you fully understand the entire situation and how it fits into the bigger picture. Check with your boss if they are happy with the situation and listen to what they say before jumping in. Not only will this help you to establish all the facts, there is also a good chance that your questions will help your boss to see the problem before you need to blatantly point it out.

5. Focus on results and offer solutions

When confronting your boss be sure that you are armed with solutions. If you can adequately explain the possible positive results of your suggestion it will make your argument more convincing and easier to accept. Even if the problem is the result of a bad decision made by your boss, you are all working for the good of the company and, as a result, you have the same goals in mind.

6. Respect the final decision and know when to walk away

At the end of the day, no matter how good your argument is, your boss has the final say. Know when to stop. A ‘my way or the highway’ approach can seriously damage your working relationship and ultimately your career. Even if things haven’t turned out as you would like, you need to know when it is time to respect your boss’ decision and move forward. Use your emotional intelligence when gauging the situation.  

While confronting your boss can be scary if you approach the situation the right way a great boss will thank you for your dedication and candour, you’ll both grow from the experience and, most importantly, you will not get fired.  

Interested in learning more techniques that can help you advance your career? With more than 15 years’ coach training experience, SACAP offers a range of coaching courses that combine rigorous academic theory with practical skills, workplace experience and self-development. For more information, enquire now.

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