How To Tell My Director He Is Wrong?
Today I had a coaching session with a middle manager who asked me: How can I tell my director he is wrong?
I felt his dilemma is common and you may have experienced this situation, too.
Here's one tip on how to communicate in this situation.
Today's issue takes about 7 minutes to read.
I'm going to show you how to communicate appropriately for the situations when:
You see the person with whom you communicate has a gap of knowledge or understanding
You perceive an imbalanced authority rapport with this person, feeling as not having enough authority, power or knowledge to sustain your point of view
You perceive there is a stake associated in the exit of this discussion, in respect of your future wellbeing
Since our natural tendency is to be aware of where the danger will come from, there are good chances for you to focus on what bad thing can happen to you if not agreeing with this person, and to behave as this bad thing just materialised, instead of working towards a solution.
Beware this person can be any person at work - a manager, a peer or a even client; at home or in your extended family; among your friends or in your life in general - often a person you regard highly of and you raised him or her on a pedestal.
It can be your boss, an expert colleague, your spouse, an older relative, your “know-it-all” neighbour, etc.
Let’s say it’s your senior manager.
By following the process I will explain here, you're more likely to stay consistent with, and convey and make effective use of the information you have.
Furthermore, you are likely to be more present and aware in conversations, and to really listen and understand what your senior manager is saying.
I see many managers don’t have a system for conveying to their senior managers all the knowledge they already have.
This happens because they keep their focus on:
Repeating the same thing over and over again (in defence),
Being convinced the other person either does not want to listen to them, cannot believe them or is trying to prove them wrong.
The results are predictable: neither party really listens, each party leaves the conversation convinced of what they already knew, and the person with less authority - you - feels constrained to implementing something knowing is not working.
Clearly, repeating the same thing goes nowhere!
Say 1 thing in 1,000 different ways.
How about providing the same content from various angles. To help you figuring out these angles, here there are some questions I use:
Question 1: What do you need to “teach” your manager?
Of course, neither of us is a professor. But you may have knowledge that is critical to your senior manager for solving correctly and effectively the situation.
Remember, your senior manager’s focus is usually strategic, therefore he or she will miss tons of valuable details while setting the tactics. The key is with you. Your senior director does not have the immediate connection to those pieces of information, unless you provide them to him.
Therefore, your “teaching” will look rather like making a diagram, a sketch, an overview map, helping you to connect various elements of the situation and revealing gaps, discrepancies and blockages, from your perspective.
You will cover:
- The elements relevant for the situation
- The interactions you see currently present in the situation
- The dynamics that are not useful or not supportive enough
- The gaps, the bottlenecks or the weak links in the system as experienced by you
Invite your manager to add or complete this picture with his or her understanding over the same elements or to add others as he sees it fit.
This helps you uncover various assumptions your manager makes without your knowledge or awareness, or to observe perspectives or connections to higher organisational objectives you could not make by yourself.
Question 2: What did you observe during your own attempt to solve the situation?
Before jumping to proposing a solution, explain what you already tried and what you noticed in your efforts.
How did the system react to your attempts?
What system adjustments did you initiate and where they stopped?
Where would you see the need for your manager’s intervention or direct support, and how should this support look from your perspective?
What is your expectation in relation to such intervention?
By offering this perspective, you provide the right motivation to your manager who will be able to see how both of you will get the desired results with a little bit of his effort, and he will consider this implication as legitimate, rather an investment of time instead of loss.
Furthermore, it is as if you invite him review a draft plan you made, as opposed to asking him build one from scratch.
In the absence of this picture, your manager will be inclined to dictate an organisational solution he or she knows they can manage by themselves. And will expect you to comply with it and not complicate things even more.
If your do not believe me, check this version with your boss and see his perspective on it.
Question 3: How is this different from what others say?
Sometimes, it will not be only on you bringing solutions to your manager.
Other (management or expert) peers may do it too. And with that they will try as much as possible to increase their image as reliable professionals and to win the manager’s political support.
You will want to do that, too. But you will want to do it professionally and increase your manager's trust in you.
When you have arrived at this point, mind you already have listened and understood the other manager’s or experts' perspectives. You will apply these 5 questions with whomever is necessary to paint the biggest picture possible for yourself in the moment, before starting to work at a solution. This solution will not be there to suffice just you, it should suffice the organisation and all its stakeholders.
Look for generalisations, exaggerations, and logical gaps.
These are easy to spot. They are introduced by words such as: everyone, everybody, nobody, never.
Or by bombastic words which mean different things for different people (huge, extremely, dubious, etc).
Or are a reflection about commonly shared beliefs: “This person is lazy because he never wants to work overtime.”
Take a contrarian position and question:
“What do you mean by this_word? Can you give me an example of it related to our situation?”
“Is [that person] lazy also during work time?”
Keep these questions neutral and objective as if conducting a pure research.
Your role is to observe, not to judge.
When judging, you cannot observe anymore because emotions will clutter your vision or understanding, and limit your ability to take decisions.
Question 4: What tools or lessons can you share in list form?
Be prepared with your own list of the insights you had while working on the topic. And be prepared to share it and to receive critique to it.
Ask your manager or other participants to share their own.
If they are not prepared (you should always be), invite them to share learnings or insights from different similar situations (after all, you do want to know what else is relevant or might work, and to enlarge even more your knowledge).
Question 5: Why did all of this happen?
Once you and your senior manager (and other people present) have unpacked EVERYTHING that matters FROM ALL PERSPECTIVES, is time to understand what not to repeat.
In which way, each of you contributed to that happening? You can formulate it like this: So, my conclusion is that next time I need to ... and mention your new thing(s). Ask others for their new thing(s).
What signs were ignored?
What would have been the right moment to read those signs?
What kind of alerts do you and your manager need to have in place for next time?
💥🎉 That’s pretty much all for today 💥🎉
Not only do you now have a template on how to communicate with your manager in situations with a high stake for you! So remember:
What do you need to “teach” your manager?
What did you observe during your own trial to solve?
How is this different from what others say?
What tools or lessons can I share in list form?
Why did all of this happen?
You also have a template on how to communicate effectively with anyone who is coming to you to ask you something.
Instead of rebutting that person or metally rejecting their request, remain in the interaction and decide you can learn something.
Be proactive and ask the same questions, but in reverse:
What can I learn from this person?
What did this person notice when they tried themselves?
How is this different from what I believe or noticed?
What tools or lessons can this person share with me (as a list)?
Why, in their view, did all of this happen?
So here it is 1 simple management performance and mindset tip !
If you're not getting value out of these tips, please consider unsubscribing. I won't mind and there are no hard feelings.
If you are enjoying this newsletter, the best compliment you could pay me would be to share it with one person.
If you have more or specific questions, write me back and ask [email protected]
Thanks for choosing to be part of my world. See you again next week!
Your mindset trainer
Whenever you're ready, there are 5 ways I can add value to you:
- Have a strategy session for your personal growth (FREE) - here.
- Download your Thinking Saboteurs Pocket Guide (FREE)
- Subscribe my newsletter - The Thriving Mindset (FREE)
- Growth Mindset for New Managers (training) - here
- Work 1-on-1 with me: