Sandy Schoeneich

Communication with individuals that are in a higher power position than us can be intimidating. In the working world, you often find power dynamics at almost any business or workplace. Employees function under superiors — these individuals can be identified as managers, supervisors, owners of the company/business, and even larger systems such as ethics or regulation boards. If you are an employee that functions under a superior, how do you view your relationship and interactions with them? Are they easy to approach? Can you discuss important work-related issues with them? What if you disagree on something with your superior? In How to Disagree with Someone More Powerful than You, Amy Gallo discusses the nuances of how to approach your superior when you disagree on something with them. This blog post will explore Gallo’s tips for approaching this difficult task, and also reflect on how these skills can be applied in other areas of your life.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel the need to express your disagreements with a person of power, first know that it is normal to feel weary about the process. It’s likely that you may feel anxiety around this potential confrontation because this type of situation elicits our natural instinct for survival. In this type of scenario, our safety may feel compromised — we worry that we may get fired, that our superior will not like us our treat us differently afterwards, or think that we are an annoyance. These are normal feelings to have. Gallo suggests that the first step in planning for this dialogue is to be realistic about the risks. Also consider what the risks may look like if you do not speak up. It is possible that your superior may not react to your disagreement at first, but it’s also very possible that you will not lose your job over it. Your boss may even gain more respect for you after your share your insight.

Identifying a shared goal is another tactic to consider when voicing your opinion to a person of power. Think about what this person values and tie your point to how your idea will benefit the value. The focus is on advancing a shared goal in this approach. Think of how this skill may be helpful in other relationships of your life. If you and your partner are disagreeing on something important, reflect back to what the shared goal or value is around this conflict. Even if you and your partner are in opposition, check in with each other on how this conflict may or may not be benefiting your shared goal.

Staying calm is another important skill to demonstrate when disagreeing with your superior. Gallo recommends that you try to stay as neutral as possible in both your words and actions. Keep your emotions regulated prior to and during the conversation by taking deep breaths, pacing yourself by speaking more slowly and with intention, and keep your tone relaxed. If we seem panicky while communicating with our superiors, this can be perceived as a mixed message and your counterpart gets to choose what to read. Staying calm and regulating our emotions is also important during conflict with romantic partners, family members, and friends. When you’re disagreeing or arguing with a loved one, notice how your tone and emotions are carrying into the conversation. If you can stay calm and regulated during these heated moments, it’s likely that your loved one(s) will pick up on that and tone their own heightened emotions down as well. It will help make the communication much clearer.

One last tip that Gallo shares is to acknowledge your superior’s authority. It’s important to note that the person in power is ultimately going to make the final decision, so voicing this during the dialogue is appreciated. Showing respect to your counterpart while maintaining your own self-respect is essential in this type of conversation.

If you find yourself having a difficult time with navigating conversations with people of power, your loved ones, coworkers, or are just have trouble navigating conversations in general, therapy may helpful. Contact Symmetry Counseling to get connected with one of our talented clinicians!