Corporate Connection

How to disagree with a higher authority

We may be at the highest step of the ladder in our job or maybe the sole owner of a large business, but we will always have someone a level higher than us. It is jokingly said that even the biggest of MD has higher authority in his wife at home.

So when I heard about an article in HBR titled “How to disagree with someone more powerful than you’’, I immediately located the article and went through it to see if it validated some of the techniques I use and if there was something more to learn.

This article published in the online version of Harvard Business Review is based on the research of Joseph Grenny, the coauthor of Crucial Conversations and the Co-Founder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training company.

If you are in a hurry to know what it contains, in a nutshell here it is:


Explain that you have a different opinion and ask if you can voice it.
Restate the original point of view or decision so it’s clear you understand it.
Speak slowly — talking in an even tone calms you and the other person down.

Assume that disagreeing is going to damage your relationship or career — the consequences are often less dramatic than we think.
State your opinions as facts; simply express your point of view and be open to dialogue.
Use judgment words, such as “hasty,” “foolish,” or “wrong,” that might upset or incite your counterpart.
Got more time? Read on

In my experience, either when I am in disagreement with someone in an authority higher than me or when someone junior is in disagreement with me, I believe the following points may be a win-win for both.

Calculate the Risk

Evaluate the risk you are taking in voicing your opinion. It may not be as risky as it may first appear. Think calmly and you may realize that it may work for you rather than against you. Your superior may actually value your forthrightness. Also, do calculate the risk of keeping your mouth shut as that might do more damage to your company and to your reputation. In most cases, it is better to speak up.

Build a Case

Before putting forth your disagreement ensure that the timing is right. Doing it in private can make it more acceptable, and at times waiting will help. Wait till you have gathered enough facts to support your stand. Don’t make judgments, and try to share as much data as possible to validate your argument.

Stay Objective and Calm.

When voicing a disagreement, try to be as objective as possible in stating the facts and your conclusions without being judgmental or making it personal. Also, watch your tone, it must not reek of insubordination. Be as polite as possible without sounding obsequious. And stay calm.

Acknowledge Authority

Show respect and acknowledge the authority of the person that you disagree with. State your point and leave the call for action in the hands of your boss. To accept or reject your argument must be an option that you must squarely leave in their hands.


It is not always comfortable arguing with someone senior or more knowledgeable than you, or listening to a brash junior. I believe that these principles, you will earn respect and admiration for both in such a situation.