Challenging Authority At Work


The longer you report to a person, the greater the likelihood that eventually you will question a decision or opinion that person has, no matter how much you respect them personally. It’s inevitable and undeniably going to happen. So when it comes about, it’s not really so much your difference in opinion that could spell trouble; it’s possibly the way you handle yourself in the process.

Like so many things in life, there is a wrong way and a right way, and an awful lot of ways in between that you could choose to air your feelings. I have found from listening to many of my clients over the years, that going about things the wrong way can lead to immediate dismissal, a stalled career or a whole lot of energy spent trying to repair damage done in what otherwise was a good working relationship.

One of the first things you would be wise to acknowledge is where you find yourself on the organizations hierarchical chart. Are you the supervisor or boss? If so, realize the title on your business card doesn’t necessarily mean every decision you’re going to make will be the right one. Nor does it mean that all the people who report to you have less intelligence or somehow don’t see the big picture the way you do. You are entitled to be treated with respect based on your position in the organization, but you also gain respect from your employees based on the respect you show them.

If you answer to an authority figure at work such as a supervisor or boss, you would be wise to respect the person you report to, and ultimately defer to their authority as the final decision-maker on the big items. You can get yourself into trouble if you overstep the boundaries of your position and start making decisions you have no right to.

I’ve listened to both men and women who got fired or let go from places of work who despite overstepping their job descriptions, failed to learn the lessons. “The guy’s a jerk. I could do his job with my eyes closed. He’s an idiot. I told him what to do and that if he didn’t he was stupid. I wouldn’t go back if they begged me, and I’d do the same thing again if I had the chance. Good riddance!”

The comments made above tell me more about the person making them than they do about the person being talked about. The person talks in issues of right and wrong, my way or the highway, black and white. Further, the message communicated is that if things aren’t done the way the speaker sees things, then the other person is an idiot. Ouch! There isn’t any respect being shown for holding a different opinion, and there’s no credit being given to the supervisor for seeing a bigger picture, knowing more background in a situation or their own work experience.

If you are going to question someone with authority, let me give you some helpful advice. First of all, always respect the other person and their right to hold an opinion different from your own. Ultimately you both want the same thing; to maximize your resources, improve conditions, solve a problem, generate numbers, maximize profits, etc. So keep your thoughts and your comments confined to the issue, not the person.

When you challenge something, don’t challenge authority, challenge yourself first. That’s right; challenge yourself. Your challenge is to respectfully bring up a topic, suggest or recommend an alternative to a process. Understand right from the start that you may be successful and you may not. You may be the one who has to relent and you might not be given a full explanation as to why your idea – so blatantly better – is not the right one at this time. Your title and the title of your supervisor or boss alone might mean you walk away having been heard but your ideas not acted on. That’s the order of things.

Picking your battles, understanding you won’t always win and seeing things differently than ‘You won I must have lost’ or ‘I won you must have lost’ are smart attitudes and behaviours. The boss is no more an idiot in every given situation than you are right in every situation. Far from being about who is right, wrong, smart or an idiot, words you choose should always be about the issue, not the people.

Conceding on issues may just be a sign of your strength by the way. By presenting your ideas for improvement but openly deferring in the end to whomever is in a position of authority, you demonstrate good interpersonal skills and your Supervisor will appreciate that. You can still be passionate about your ideas on a subject, and you might even find the person in authority gives your future ideas more thought because of the respect they feel you’ve earned by respecting them.

Personality clashes sometimes get in the way of respectfully exchanging ideas and respecting those in the workplace. It’s a wise person who pauses to see things from another person’s perspective when they can, and asks for clarification when they can’t. People want to feel listened to, their ideas heard and considered. In the end, the higher a person is in the organization the greater is the ultimate responsibility for major decisions.

 

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3 thoughts on “Challenging Authority At Work

  1. Conceding is not always a bad word or strategy. It really does indicate good interpersonal skills; it’s not losing, as you say, its communicating effectively.

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  2. I have to agree with the above statement. There are no winners or losers. You communicate effectively if you had what you thought was a good idea but you concede to the powers that be. They are the ones who make the decisions. I think it’s when people see things in terms of winning or losing that they put their backs up and act in ways that cause them to be dismissed.

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