Should You Speak Up if You Disagree With Your Boss?

11 people share what they did when their boss behaved badly

MicroStockHub/ Getty Images
MicroStockHub/ Getty Images

When your boss handles a situation in a way you disagree with, things can get pretty awkward, pretty quickly. And it’s not always easy to know whether to speak up or hold your tongue when you’re trying to put your best foot forward at work.

We asked the Thrive community to share a time they felt a superior mishandled a situation, what they did about it, and what they learned from the experience. Here are some of our favorite true tales of confrontations, missed opportunities and—happily—successful negotiations. Next time you find yourself in a similarly sticky predicament, feel free to heed their wisdom:

“A former boss and I disagreed about our strategy to move the business forward. I wanted her to make a minimal investment in some advertising that was proven to be effective in order to increase our stagnant new business numbers. After many unsuccessful attempts at persuading her, I found myself becoming frustrated and irritable at work. In the end, I found a position that suited me much better. I could not have identified this opportunity if I had not known what it was that I was looking for. And for this, I thank her.”

—Leila, hospitality, Santa Fe, NM

“I disagreed with my boss about the way he spoke to me in a meeting. Rather than make a big deal out of it in front of the team, I approached him afterward in his office and explained what I had an issue with and why. He appreciated that I discussed it with him privately.”

—Alice, Johannesburg, South Africa

“I recall a meeting with the CEO of our company where I was to brief him on my unit’s new strategy. At the end of the presentation he challenged our focus and suggested a new one. My two direct bosses nodded in loyal agreement despite this being diametrically opposed to what we’d agreed on in advance of the meeting. I stood my ground and tried to explain to the CEO why we’d rejected his strategy. My bosses remained silent. The CEO got angry and told me I wasn’t listening. I said that I was listening, but that I simply wasn’t agreeing with him. I feel that too few business leaders are prepared to speak truth to authority — to tell the Emperor he has no clothes.”

—James, consultant, Europe

“One day my boss confronted me about a rumor he had heard from my co-workers that related to my integrity. I was totally caught off guard since he rarely calls me into his office. I was unable to respond. I felt unsupported. As an afterthought, I wish I had told him the rumor was just that — wrong information, and that I did not appreciate the fact that he took it as truth. Because I never conveyed my real feelings to him, our relationship remains strained. Lesson learned – find your voice and speak it gracefully, don’t let it linger.”

—Gerry, education, Austin, TX

“My company was reorganizing and my position was moved to another division. My new supervisor was conducting individual introductory meetings and when it was my turn, she asked me if I knew that my former supervisor didn’t speak very highly of me. I knew that the reason for this had nothing to do with my work, rather it was a personality matter. So I asked my new boss to simply observe me for a month and make up her own mind about my work. We shook on it. It worked. After a short time, I was given a title promotion as well as additional responsibilities. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.”

—Peg, corporate training, USA

“I used to work on a trading desk on Wall Street. My boss would yell, scream, curse and demean everyone. I learned to develop a thick skin and not take things personally. It was very difficult in the beginning, but after awhile it became easier to remain calm and focused on my job no matter what madness would unfold around me. Since that time, I have learned to not respond immediately when someone screams at me. Instead I hold their gaze and offer my response in a measured tone. This has helped me become more professional, productive and efficient in my work.”

—Mark, director of fundraising and public relations at a nonprofit, New York, NY

“As a remote worker, hearing feedback from my boss means quite a lot. But there were times when I could only hear his silence regarding particular projects. That’s when self-blaming started to sink in. He isn’t the kind of person who would badmouth people or throw in a negative vibe. But I admit that I didn’t like how he just seemed to leave things unsaid. Now, after almost two years of working with him, I’ve learned that this is just his style and I can rely on the trust given to me despite random silence. Worrying isn’t worth one’s time; it only consumes one’s energy.”

—Karen, digital marketing, Philippines

“My boss had an issue with me and decided to handle it by ridiculing me at my desk within earshot of the entire office. Rather than taking me aside or into a conference room, she decided to talk to me in a demeaning and derogatory manner. I had never been talked to by a boss in this way and was dumbfounded. I sat in my desk and allowed her to continue her insulting rant. Reflecting on the situation, I wish I would have stood up and insisted to take this conversation to a private room. Always be prepared to stand your ground when you have something to say!”

—Anna, health and wellness coaching, Minneapolis, MN

“I was getting arbitrary feedback from my boss to revise a project without any reasoning as to why. It felt like busy-work and power-tripping at the end of a busy day. So instead of being combative, I explained that for the purpose of maintaining clarity in our communication, I needed her to walk me through each point. Through that process she realized how time-consuming the revisions would be, and that the quality of my work was there. She accepted my version after all.”

—Paul, travel writer and marketer, New York, NY

“My boss and I come from different generations, and we often disagree on how to effectively sustain accountability for tasks between our team members. I am of the mind that taking ownership of something can be empowering, and he is more keen towards micromanaging. At the end of the day, I’ve embraced empathy in welcoming his perspective, as I believe this gives him the wherewithal to embrace mine, as well. Somehow with this open-mindedness, we’ve come to compromise on many decisions.”

—Aleksandra, project coordinator, Newark, DE

“At my most recent job, when I had a problem with my manager’s behavior, I spoke up. I told them I am not a punching bag and that I work hard and don’t appreciate the poor treatment. They appreciated my feedback and fessed up to their inappropriate behavior. My best advice is to keep your cool, but speak up. Fight for the respect that you deserve.”

—A.D., fashion, New York, NY

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