Positive change requires effort, and you’re no stranger to hard work, but the effort it takes to induce change in those only slightly above you in the company hierarchy can sometimes seem herculean. As a business coach, time and time again I encounter this situation with my clients. The settings may differ, but every scene is mind-numbingly similar: Frustrated clients who want to evoke meaningful change in themselves or in their institutions, but higher-ups stand in the way.
Is there any way to get a leg up on the boss?
With the right strategy, it can be possible to take on the boss and come out on top – despite your current spot on the totem pole of management.
- Timing is everything.
When you have a difference of opinion with senior management, rash actions are the enemy. Consider timing: Should you speak-up now, or would a private discussion or follow-up meeting offer a more suitable opportunity to state your case? For managers prone to defensiveness, challenging an idea in a group setting may make them feel backed into a corner. Considering the best time and place to voice your concerns in a way that doesn’t threaten or insult can set you up for success. For the overly touchy boss, try asking first to help him or her retain a feeling of control. “Hey Bob, do you have a few minutes? I have a few concerns/suggestions about the upcoming changes…”
- Forget finger wagging.
It’s important to remember that pointing a finger or passing the buck will not give weight to your opinion, especially to someone in a position of authority. If you want to protect your professional relationships from the nuclear fallout that can come from belittling fellow associates in front of their peers, you have to stick to a nonjudgmental attitude, backed up by facts. And watch out for aggressive language – a soft tone with harsh words isn’t any less insulting. Stating, “Despite the new system, our numbers show customer response time is still not improving…” is a far better approach than, “The new system you designed is lacking, Bob, all that work – and customer response time is still way behind.”
- Acknowledge your role.
You are, in fact, not the boss. Acknowledge your boss’s role as the ultimate decision maker by approaching the conversation as simply a strategic, problem-solving process. When done right, you are communicating that you are in fact your boss’s best asset. Providing solutions and feedback in a way that illustrates you have your boss’s back goes a long way in establishing trust. At the same time, be open to the opinions of others – and the fact that you may have some areas for improvement you need to address (who doesn’t, really). Approaching a problem by saying, “Bob, this process is working great. I see where we are having some real progress. I also noticed some areas for improvement. It may be because I’m too close to the process, so I’d love to get some additional feedback from the team to vet the results.”
- Create – don’t destroy.
You remember the old adage: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Offering positive, helpful insight rather than simply tearing apart opposing ideas will often be reflected in response. As a business coach, I cannot stress enough the power of positivity. Try beginning by identifying shared goals and points of agreement, and then note your counterpoint. This lays a stronger foundation for the conversation and where you’re going with it – and prevents defensiveness.
- Cultivate your communication skills.
Effective, persuasive communicators get results. How do they win friends and influence people? Those who excel at inspiring others…
Speaking in a relaxed demeanor. They’re not worked up by the conversation. It’s as easy for them to discuss as the weather.
Own their knowledge…
Touching lightly on it as part of normal conversation, to establish their credibility and relevant insight in a non-threatening, non-boastful way.
Give what they want to receive…
Be it respect, praise, or help, to earn it back in kind.
By cultivating relationships based on similarities with others.
Draft an army…
Gathering those close that can offer additional valuable experience and knowledge.
Pointing out what might be lost if their insight is overlooked.
In Peter Bregman’s article, The Small Personal Risks that Actually Change Behavior, Peter states, “The essence of leadership is having the courage to show up different than the people around you. Leadership calls us to step forward first and take the risk that others are afraid to take.” This is how to own your power and sets you up for success in effective disagreement.
Are you struggling to realize your true potential at work? Don’t stagnate – spark change with a business coach. Reach your maximum leadership potential by breaking free of the ties that bind you. Contact me today.