The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Agreeing to Disagree

I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but whatever it is — I disagree.

You heard me right. I think you’re wrong.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

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Now that I’ve said it, I’ll bet you’re totally impressed. You feel a profound admiration for my willingness to tell you that you’re a stupid idiot. You think I’m courageous and principled and exactly the kind of person you’d like to promote.

And you’d be right.

It was only recently that I decided to replace my agreeable, mindless self with a me who speaks his mind. Instead of agreeing with anyone who signs my paycheck, I’m taking the advice of Joann S. Lublin, a careers reporter for The Wall Street Journal. That’s right! I’m speaking truth to power. According to Lublin, who is never wrong, arguing with your boss could be “a winning career strategy.”

Citing the popular myth that “managers who butt heads with the boss fail to get ahead,” Lublin quotes Kenton R. Hill, an executive coach, who believes “it takes courage and emotional intelligence to stand up to your boss.”

In my experience, it also takes a few Singapore Slings at the Kit Kat Klub, but be careful you don’t have more than six. At this point, your boss is still wrong, but you probably can’t remember his name or yours.

It does take skill and guile if you are going to go public with your intelligent opinion of the boss’s moronic one. One tip provided by Lublin’s experts is to “use ‘I’ statements to describe the problem. For example, say ‘I don’t feel this project is going as well as it could,’ instead of ‘You aren’t doing this right.'”

An “I” statement is certainly better than a “You” statement, but if you’re really intelligent, you’ll use a &He” statement. As in “He doesn’t think this project is going as well as it could.” This way, you deliver the message, and you can wait to see the boss’s reaction before following up with a “We” statement, such as “Frankly, I think he’s dead wrong. We really should fire him.”

If you are a recent hire and find yourself tempted to use your experience at your last job to argue about the way things are done at your new job, remember that you weren’t hired for your experience. You were hired because no one else was willing to do so much work for so little money. Save your arguments for your next job, which considering the way you’re thinking, will probably be coming up in the very near future.

If you do feel the urge to right the wrongs of your manager’s management style, remember to keep your disagreements “fact based.” Lublin tells the story of an anonymous executive who analyzed relevant data for three months before exposing a whiff of disagreement over her manager’s decisions. In other words, it’s not enough to tell your boss he’s stupid. You have to be ready to prove he’s stupid.

Some companies welcome disagreements. At Tyco International Ltd, executives are regularly evaluated on their leadership abilities, “including whether they feel comfortable ‘saying the emperor has no clothes’ during meetings.”

Apparently, the company is quite proud of its approach, though I’m sure you would rather say, “the emperor has no clothes” every five minutes than spend even one minute actually expressing an honest appraisal of the bozos who are running your company.

(In fact, repeatedly saying “the emperor has no new clothes” could get you a reputation as an inscrutable guru type who goes to TED conferences and meditates during lunch hour. This transition will be accelerated if you have a dozen direct reports who are terrified of disagreeing with you. )

If you do decide to argue with your boss, be prepared for a long argument. “Persistence is key for winning,” Lublin’s reporting suggests, which means you will have to walk that fine line between being an insightful, caring employee and being a pest.

Of course, being known as a pest does have its advantages. You won’t be asked to attend high-level meetings or be invited to go to lunch with the gang. No one will want to work with you or even talk to you, so you’ll be left alone to arrange your mini Smurf collection across the top of your cubical wall and take long naps in the computer closet.

In other words, you’ll be living the good life at work, and no one could argue with that.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.

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