How to speak up to your boss

Disagree with your company's strategy or decisions? Here's how to get your point of view across.

by Rebecca Alexander
Last Updated: 22 Jan 2016

The time will come when you recognise that your boss's or organisation's thinking, strategy or actions are wrong (hopefully not all at once). Perhaps your position from inside your team affords you insights that aren't available to the upper echelons. Do you opt for self-preservation, turn a blind eye and know that at least when it goes belly-up, you were right? Or do you take responsibility and risk speaking up? If it's the latter, here's how to present your case to have the most impact.

The Basics

Know your facts. What's your evidence that a plan or approach isn't working, or that it won't work long term? Have figures, observations or statistics to hand. A 'gut feeling' that something is wrong won't cut it.

Know your boss (or your boss's boss). What matters to them? Will they care that some of your customers might be inconvenienced when the organisation stands to double its profits? If not, how else might you present your case? For example, perhaps those same customers will desert the company at the next sign of trouble, making today's profits a short-sighted win. It's vital to identify what will appeal to your boss's self-interest, or to the company's bottom line.

Choose your moment. If life were a movie, you'd make an impassioned, last-minute intervention at the boardroom table that would have everyone nodding sagely at your foresight and wisdom. Now cut to reality. Challenging the company's direction publicly rarely goes down well. Before you speak, consider when, where and with whom. Public or private? One-to-one or in a group? Is the person you need to speak to most accessible in the afternoon, the morning, or out-of-office hours? Such simple considerations can have a big impact.

The Inside Edge

Recognise your own motives. Are you speaking up to quash an unpopular manager's pet project? To look clever? To gain kudos with your team? If so, reconsider. Your self-interest will be transparent and will render your argument invalid.

Phrase concern as a question. For example, 'How do you think we can get everyone working together on this?' rather than, 'The team are dragging their feet because your boorish attitude is driving them nuts.' Challenge in the spirit of collaboration, not competition.

Develop a thick skin. When you go against the crowd, you'll raise hackles. Expect at the least a challenge, or some personal criticism. You need to be able to handle this, without losing sight of the overall goal.

Rehearse. We often resist rehearsing, fearing it will make us seem inauthentic, or because we believe we're more creative when we wing it. But rehearsing can pinpoint the flaws in your own argument, as well as highlighting the obvious questions your boss or managers will ask. Practise alone or with someone you trust - either will set you on the path to success.

Rebecca Alexander is an executive coach at The Coaching Studio. Email her at or follow her on Twitter: @_coachingstudio

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