"Is it okay to disagree with your boss?"

Rarely has the B&G Report received such strongly worded answers to a question we've posed. Clearly, the issue of disagreeing with a supervisor is one that's near and dear to the hearts of many, either as a point of pride or of pain. Following are excerpts from a dozen of the many comments we received. We were particularly gratified by the interesting counterpoint offered by those responses that came from self-described bosses.

  • "I have been in government at both the State and Municipal levels for most of my professional life. Coping with differences of opinion with management and elected officials is and always will be part of the terrain. ... But recently something has changed. Maybe it is symptomatic of the ideological rift in our country. You can no longer dissent, provide professional opinion or disagree on implementation. Rather you are too often branded as an enemy and hence must be removed. ... I think that pressure on upper management, from the public and elected officials, has been increased exponentially. Today draconian responses are not only tolerated but encouraged. Simply providing sound facts and figures are often viewed as a threat if they do not support the view point of those in charge. This is a sad state of affairs as, if this continues, no one will be able to rely on any information as being honest or valid."
  • "I have no problem disagreeing with my bosses, or any of their superiors. It is all in how it is presented. ... I don't feel that it has impacted my reputation or ability to be effective, and in some cases, what I have disagreed with has been changed — whether it is the goal for a particular program or a plan of attack to solve a challenge. In order for my bosses to respect my opinion, I also have to respect their position and what their opinion may be as well. Pick the right place to battle if that is what is required, work for compromise and a solution that makes sense and that all agree on. Altruistic yes, and sometimes more work initially, but usually pays off with productivity and meeting challenges in the end."
  • "No, I do not feel comfortable disagreeing with my bosses and it is a large obstacle in meeting the requirements of the ordinances my office is responsible for enforcing."
  • "I recently retired as deputy state auditor from our state auditor's office (legislative branch) after 18 years. In my entire career there, I felt fortunate because I was encouraged to give my opinion, and I encouraged my staff to do the same. We were paid to 'say what we thought.' Although I did not always agree with the final decision, I did feel that I was heard, and that our organization arrived at better decisions because staff were encouraged to be honest about their perspective."
  • "I work in State government and work with someone who believes I work 'for her.' Someone with this type of management style doesn't leave a lot a room for disagreement or tolerates it very well. In my work as a financial manager, I have tactfully locked horns with my supervisor a couple of times over some pretty serious matters. The result has been some nasty emails that implied that I either didn't have the expertise to know what I was talking about or that I didn't have a clue how to handle the matter appropriately. Neither was the case. I was actually trying to be proactive and keep our agency from getting into hot water later on down the line."
  • "As a boss, I follow a different philosophy on this subject. I want my subordinate supervisors to disagree with me when they think I am wrong. I always want a second opinion on important matters. Too often we only have a small portion of facts when faced with problems. Subordinates offer insight that I may not have. If I was always right, I wouldn't need the assistants."
  • "Yes, I feel free to [disagree]. I cannot work for someone I can't debate with. The difference is that once a decision is made I support it or leave."
  • "I was hired to be an advocate for poor citizens and rarely feel I cannot honestly respond to questions from superiors. I have suffered retribution in the past though, but life is too short to be lived in fear and submission against one's own principles. ... Seems to work for me."
  • "I've dealt with subordinates over the years who have consistently refused to express opinions that disagreed with mine, even when I knew from other sources what their opinion was. This drives me crazy. I select people for my management team because of their experience and expertise. If they are unwilling to share their opinions with me, particularly when they believe I'm wrong or am making a mistake, they are of no use to me. If I'm about to step on some land mine, I want people around me who are willing to tell me I better watch my step."
  • "Unfortunately, many bosses simply don't want input. It is frustrating when an employee asks for more information about why an organization is moving in a certain direction and gets steamrolled. In fact, ignoring questions may be more condescending than simply answering 'because I said so.' There is a fine line between questioning policy or tradition, and conflict. ... Good managers understand that work relationships are a two-way street. I owe my subordinates honest direction and feedback. My subordinates should in return, communicate their needs to me and provide an authentic and timely work product. I feel that a manager should be confident enough to surround themselves with people whose strengths are their own weaknesses. I also feel it is important for managers to allow their department heads to be the expert of their department rather than the CEO being the expert of everything."
  • "As a city manager, I often find myself having to disagree with something one or more of my bosses want me to do. It is never a pleasant experience, and can easily lead to my termination, but I was hired to give them honest advice and feedback. I use the example with them that when they go to their doctor they expect the doctor to give them an honest diagnosis, even if the news is horrible and frightening, not lie or sugar coat the news just to make them feel better while they waste away to their death."
  • "I realize this email could be monitored for its content, but I'm taking the chance. We are encouraged by our immediate boss to voice opinion and most of the time our opinion is heard, even if not accepted. However, in the process of encouraging me to voice my opinion, and I do speak my mind, I'm reprimanded because I am 'defensive.' The biggest issue I have experienced, though, is disagreeing with the boss' boss. This is where the typical 'you should have thought of all this before now' comes to the surface."