Personal Influence: Can you disagree with your boss’s ideas and still be successful at work?

Be influential or quit!

We like to think we can disagree with the people in charge and have things go our way with great consistency. After all, in the movies it’s the struggling person with no influence who has the great idea that everyone opposes and who, through sheer grit and determination (and often involving Jeff Bridges or Kevin Costner), rises to the top to make the higher-ups look like idiots. In life, though, it’s more typical that people who openly disagree with the boss end up first in line on the chopping block – especially if they are right and have the support of other people managed by that same boss. I have also seen people promoted to a position that gets them away from other humans. I personally was exiled to Omaha years ago for increasing sales by doing the exact opposite of what my boss said I should. Not that the people in Omaha were not humans … it’s just that I went from a big-city office where things were moving and shaking to a location where people wore Christmas sweaters. I have noticed over the years that when the people who are driving change wear a lot of holiday clothing, your chances of global impact are minimal.

In 10 years of research on leadership and change management, I have observed that VP teams commonly get rid of talented employees who openly disagree and have the positioning and charisma to influence others. It actually makes sense for that to happen. Dragging people screaming and kicking in a direction they don’t want to go has a history of being expensive and diluting the company’s vision. Though teamwork can be overrated, without it you can’t make things happen or develop agreed-upon, repeatable processes. Organizations and individuals don’t choose the best ideas; they choose the ones they are most comfortable with.

It is possible, however, to use personal influence tactics that can get you traction for your ideas. For example, it’s important understand that people are much more likely to agree with those who have agreed with them first. Agreement is the foundation of accountability. If you look for areas where you agree with the boss and you state your agreement (“I agree with that; let me tell you how I can help you”) before making a recommendation, you are much more likely to have your input heard and used. It’s a kind of formula that I call Ask, Listen, Agree, Recommend. This works well because people rarely object to their own ideas! They think, “My idea sounds fantastic coming from you! We should definitely do that.” Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people use this tactic. It’s just too simple, and people who feel oppressed by their boss really need to be right and make the boss wrong. So they grumble and do nothing, or they accidentally blurt out something that seals the fate of their work life – something like “I know you’re intelligent; I just can’t tell that by talking to you.”

I was dragged into an opportunity that I was not thrilled with, and it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was the last corporate job I had before starting my own company in 1996. They were so screwed up that I was exposed to almost every problem an organization could have, including a bizarre concept of “next-day air” shipping. They said next-day air meant we would receive the order Monday, pull the product from inventory Tuesday, and ship it Wednesday so the customer gets it Thursday. I explained that today (Monday) is today and tomorrow (Tuesday) is the next day, hence the term “next-day” air! They said I was wrong and needed to tell my employees and customers that next-day air took three days. I told them I was quitting, not today but the next day, which, if you look on your calendar, is tomorrow! I’m sure they are better off without me and my crazy logical disruptions. That psychotic BS inspired me to help other organizations as a motivational speaker with leadership, communication, and influence. But in reality I started my own company for the same reasons most entrepreneurs do but will rarely verbalize: I got tired of making other people rich!

46 Responses to Personal Influence: Can you disagree with your boss’s ideas and still be successful at work?

  1. oil torches says:

    Garrison,

    After 20 years in corporate UK, I totally agree and understanding (and using this) this is the key riches.

    I think you know why ;o)

    Sa.

  2. I agree that in today’s competitive workplace we must be influential.

  3. Henry says:

    One can only be happy in an office if he or she will not disagree with the boss.

  4. I totally agree with this. I used to think that hard work alone was enough to get to the top, but it’s simply not true. I think the biggest indictor of how influential someone is is how likeable the person is. Most people, consciously or not, will oppose those who they don’t get along with.

    ‘Influence’ by Robert Cialdini is a great read which talks all about this. Strongly recommended!

  5. Hey that’s a great post and I completely agree with you. It seems to me that in order to climb the corporate ladder and receive the recognition of your colleagues and bosses you cannot think “too” progressively. If you have different views and opinions you automatically become an outsider.
    JK

  6. Alan says:

    I had the opportunity to work with an EVP of marketing roughly 10 years ago. During that short career, I also had to work with a president that liked those that agreed with his ideas. Unfortunately, he was wrong most of the time but didn’t really care. His motivation was to gain a retirement bonus through meeting his own short-term objectives at the risk of total ruin for the company. Unfortunately, through a course of events, that too happened.

    I, unfortunately, did not know of your strategy and fell into the trap of having to offer suggestions to the “new management” as they were corporate raiders that did not know our business at all. I found your assumtions to be all too true and wished that I knew some of these tactics at that time. As I look back over the past years, I found that it was the “yes men” that had more longevity in their position than those that had an honest and sincere interest in helping their company grow.

    Last year, the company I worked for at one time was closed with assets being divided amonst, in some cases, their competition.

    Sorry to say, your analysis is all too on the money. Frightening, isn’t it.

  7. Personally, I studied and practised “idea seesing” there is nothing quite so powerful as conversational hypnosis done well.

    USing this tactic for over 5 years with a very belligerent boss, people were amazed how often he came up with my ideas all on his own.

    Good stuff.

    Babs.

  8. I completely agree with you. To have the best chance to stay in a company and be promoted you have to agree with the boss. Unfortunately, in 15 years in the same company, I saw people take advantage of the fact that the boss likes them and listens to them to ruin the company. And the ones who have been honest with the boss (by telling him he was wrong and tried to help him) were fired.

  9. There will always be contention amongst colleagues and especially within a highly bureaucratic workplace. However, there is always the option to start your own business, get your own office, and do things the way you wish for them to be done.

  10. It’s a unique skill to be able to interject your idea into a conversation and have the listener (aka “your boss”) believe they had some involvement in that idea. However, it can be done with a lot of practice.

  11. nice post! I remember when i was still working full-time for a company. My boss was talking to about how bad he feels for the low number of production that we have, i can see how bad he feels and it almost got him angry so i started suggesting some ideas. good thing he followed my ideas. It got good results and i got promoted.

  12. Excellent post …thanks

  13. SQL Training says:

    I think the idea you have mentioned the Ask, Agree one is quite good. I think many bosses will be very much happy if their employees implement this idea

  14. Disagreeing with boss is not bad. I think in most places (specially public sector work in canada) it is expected. That is a very good way to foster dynamic workforce. You can also be diplomatic and not toss boss’s idea instead you can just combine boss’s idea and incorporate yours with that.

  15. Phil says:

    I think people can “skirt” around their boss until they get caught.

    “Organizations and individuals don’t choose the best ideas; they choose the ones they are most comfortable with.” I agree with this statement and am experiencing it right now. There are certain people who believe in a “safe way” to do business but I don’t think that’s helping. It’s currently causing internal chaos which start to affect the break up of a rather tight team all in the name of saving money supposedly and getting more efficient.

    We’ll see what happens.

  16. eddy jason says:

    Really nice post bro…yeah sometimes we disagree with boss but whether you like it or not you must do the job…that’s why it called job

  17. iwan says:

    Great post. It is very informative.

  18. digitalni tisak says:

    Great post! But, if you are a woman, sometimes “agreeing with your boss” includes much, much more… In that case, there is only one way to success, and if you don’t accept it, all your great ideas, hard working, creativity and listening WON’T help you!

  19. Tinzley says:

    This was a great way to help others better see why things go down the way they do many times. Sometimes silence is golden, but misery is not. Thanks ! Nice write up.

  20. Salil says:

    Its bit psychological. Most people unknowingly start opposing you just because they don’t like you. Gone are the days where hard work was the key element for success. Now, even strategy plays big role, reaching to the top.

  21. I guess most bosses these days look for the “Yes Guy or Girl.” Whatever happened to having the ability to debate a subject with a lower-ranked employee?

  22. Nick Hurst says:

    I may only be young at 23 to be commenting here, but I recommend a direct approach when speaking to the boss, honesty is always appreciated.

  23. david says:

    Really a great post.
    thanx

  24. I think you have to find the right balance between giving your ideas which your boss may not like/agree with and knowing when to keep your boss happy.

  25. Most bosses actively promote this type of thinking. Why would any boss want just a ‘yes man’?

  26. RCA Ieftin says:

    I think the same way, but I told my boss the truth a few weeks ago and now I have time to read blogs :))

  27. Excellent Blog with valuable info. Thanks for posting 🙂

  28. tn-warez says:

    its my first comment here!! thanks for your post! i like the way you write…

  29. baby weaning says:

    I nearly got fired once because i tried todo what you mentioned here.actuallly the boss was wrong but because I was right and almost all workers supported me my boss got really angry with me and nearly fired me.Since then I have been keeping quiet even he is wrong.

  30. I guess so, as long as you say it in a way that he is not offended.

  31. juniper says:

    great post. very interesting, i totaly agree with u

  32. Lene says:

    Sure it is your rigth to disagree with your boss. If nobody disagree with the boss, how can a boss then develop and be better??

    you have to tell peopel the truth/your opinnion, doesn’t matter if it your boss or daugther…

  33. Alma says:

    You are so rigth about this, couldn’t agree more….

  34. Bret Hart says:

    Thanks for post. I’m in that situation right now. I’m telling the truth to my boss’s face. And I think, soon I’ll be fired. I only hope, that he has a head on his shoulders.

  35. Adidas Jeremy Scott says:

    my boss thinks he is right all the time so I will never disagree with him.

  36. Yes you can disagree with your boss at work and still be successful but it depends on your boss’s ability to accept other points of view. “How To Win Friends and Influence People” is a great book that increases the chances of critiquing someone while still maintaining a positive tone. This is extremely important. If the boss feels threatened or contradicted they will not accept it well.

  37. sonnara says:

    Great post. It is very informative.

    http://www.sonara.net

  38. Ebin says:

    IT’s always better to go with the boss .Or escalate to boss’s boss.

  39. james says:

    Wow, this is a really insightful post! it’s obvious by the way you’ve worded things and the jargon you’ve utilized that you know what you’re talking about. I’ve learned quite a few new things thanks to you and I’ll be applying them diligently! Keep up the good work.
    -James

  40. eric says:

    depends who your boss is…

    ev

  41. Doesn’t it suck that we can’t even give positive feedback to our bosses without getting rejected or worse fired?

    You would think the bosses would be please that you are trying so hard to help the company/business thrive, but nope, instead you are given the boot.

  42. Vik says:

    It depends on the kind of boss you have.

  43. Well I don’t think I can disagree with boss’s ideas and still be successful at work. Seriously not many bosses like employees that do not “agree” with their ideas, it kinda made them feel stupid and not superior in a way.

  44. I have enjoyed reading your post. It looks like you spend a large amount of time and effort in writing the blog.I am appreciating your effort.
    The nature of employee depends upon the boss’s behavior upon the employee.

  45. Kannan M says:

    Yes. The nature, character, and behavior of the employee depends upon the Boss and His Nature.

  46. I understand everything you say here. As an employee we tend to just agree with what the boss have to say or want. Disagreeing with them might cause you your job, it’s either to with the flow or quit.

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