General Stanley McChrystal made a tactical error when he agreed to let a reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine follow his staff around for a month.  The result was the first time a wartime general has been removed from command since Truman fired MacArthur.  So short of incurring your own dismissal, how can you disagree with your boss in a constructive way?  Here are some tips I often give when I am coaching executives.

Tip#1:  Never criticize your boss publically.  That’s mean don’t talk to reporters and don’t talk at the espresso machine.  Don’t use social media outlets for your emotional outlet.  Find a coach, mentor or close personal friend to share your frustrations with.

Tip#2:  Don’t expect your boss to read your mind.  Just because you withdraw or because you hinted at your disapproval, don’t keep your boss guessing which side you’re on.  The best approach is to set up a private meeting to discuss the things you are uncomfortable with.  Choose a time you know your boss can give you undivided attention and come prepared.  Your preparation could include data to help support your position, arguments to persuade, or grounded opinions. 

Tip#3:  Know your intent and motives.  You need to check your heart as well as your head.  Is the disagreement really about something in the past?  Ask yourself two questions: “What do I want to be different?” and “What am I willing to do to make the difference?”

In your face to face meeting, start with the facts (those things that are verifiable or commonly agreed upon in your work culture.)  Then add your considered opinion and assessment.  If you have feelings or emotions behind the disagreement express them after you have established the situational ground.  And most importantly, move the conversation into the future.  What are you going to do and what do you want your boss to do?

Finally, if you agree to disagree, let that be the end of it.  If you can’t let it end than you need to move on.   The workplace is not that different from the military.  The company has a mission and strategy and if you can’t get on board it is best for you and them if you part company.

I hope your boss listens and responds.  I hope too, the when your boss is about to let Rolling Stone in the door, you have the courage to put up a fight.  McChrystal might be wishing someone on his staff had said, “General, do you really think Rolling Stone is our best option?”

Here’s to your success,


Linda Tiernan Sommer, MBA