How to Disagree with Your Boss (and Not Get Fired)

You can tell the truth…

Or you can be nice.

But can you do both?

Often, we don’t act like both are possible. Rather than choosing honesty and respect, we choose silence or violence.

We know that failing to speak up doesn’t benefit the organisation. We know that aggression and coercion won’t positively affect our organisational culture.

But even though we know the tactics of silence and violence won’t help us get better results and build stronger relationships, we still choose these behaviours.

Why is that?

We become overwhelmed by the Fool’s Choice. We become convinced that we must choose between one of only two options during a conversation: Do I speak honestly or act nicely? Do I use total candour or act respectfully?

We foolishly believe we have to choose either/or.

Thirty years of research from my colleagues shows us that people who have the most effective crucial conversations don’t buy into that mindset. Instead, they ask themselves, “How can I be honest and nice? How can I be candid and respectful?”

Instead of focusing on directness or friendliness, they focus on healthy dialogue.

Why Dialogue Matters

In any organisation, family, or team, each person in the group has unique ideas and perspectives. They each have opinions, history, and data that’s meaningful to the organisation.

An effective leader aims to create an atmosphere where people feel safe enough to share all of that meaning.

When you create this positive organisational climate, you gain a rich dialogue where people feel safe to talk, disagree, and share ideas. You raise your group IQ, your collective perspective broadens, and you make smarter, more unified decisions.

So, what can we do to foster an environment that welcomes dialogue?

First, we can focus on connecting the poor results we’re getting in our personal or professional lives to the conversations that address those issues.

These are the conversations that get us unstuck from the problems that have eluded us for years…

The conversations that mend disconnected relationships…

The conversations about why our results aren’t what we hoped.

Sometimes making the connection between poor results and the issue we need to discuss makes all the difference.

The Most Important Part of Crucial Conversations

Crucial conversations may not be easy to have, but with practise they can be easy to recognise — and that’s the most important part!

My friend and colleague, Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Conversations, was running some errands a few months ago when he ran into an old friend from school.

They were catching up, talking about life, work, and family. The friend was very complimentary to Kerry and the work we’re doing at VitalSmarts. He even brought up the book. He said, “Crucial Conversations was a great book… it’s life-changing”

Kerry became curious. “What do you like about it?” he asked as he began to probe about the book. “What was your favourite part? What did you enjoy?”

The old friend fumbled for substantial answers, giving one vague response after another. Finally, he turned to Kerry and said, “Well, the cover alone is life-changing…and to be more specific, the title is life-changing!”

At first, Kerry was put off and doubted that his friend ever opened the book. But the more he thought about it, the more he realised the profound truth of what his friend said.

The most important part of crucial conversations is knowing they exist.

You have more than two options when you’re faced with a tough conversation. You don’t have to just shut up or shut down. Instead, you can recognise the potential for healthy, effective dialogue and knowingly choose to talk.

Whether you go through the training or read the book, you may not remember all the skills or acronyms when you need to. But life would change if we became better at noticing these moments in our lives called crucial conversations.

If you can notice these moments when they happen, then choose to be on your best behaviour during those times, you can get to a place of healthy dialogue.

You can get better results.

And, you can build the relationships you care about most.

Solving our problems can begin with something as simple as a conversation. We just have to recognise it’s happening. Then we can choose to be honest and respectful when it does.

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