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Sometimes Disagreeing with the Boss Can Be a Good Thing

Posted Aug 10, 2012 9:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Disagreeing with the boss can actually enhance careers, as long as it’s done right.

That’s the conclusion of experts interviewed by the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). The story quotes executive coach Kenton Hill, who wrote the book Smart Isn't Enough. "It takes courage and emotional intelligence to stand up to your boss," Hill says. “You're more likely to land a bigger role if you help your boss be successful.”

Douglas Conant, a retired chief executive of Campbell Soup Co. and a director of Avon Products, tells the newspaper that leaders with strong views are preferred, as long as they are “genuinely trying to advance the enterprise" rather than themselves.

Disagreements should be based on the facts, and shouldn’t involve name-calling or disparagement, the article says. Use “I” statements such as "I feel like this project is not going as well as it could," instead of "You aren't doing this right."

One executive told how he managed to change his boss’s mind. The boss believed small business owners were shopping at his retailer’s business unit for their own firms, while the executive believed the customers were buying for their families. The executive spent 90 days analyzing purchase information, which confirmed his point, and then presented the data. He presented the material to the boss as a fresh insight, rather than a refutation of the boss’s judgment. The pitch resulted in a new marketing plan.

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