Let me lay out a scenario that is, I’m willing to bet, all too familiar to anyone reading this. Your boss tells you to do something, but you don’t think it’s the right call. You know that your time would be better spent elsewhere, and yet if you say that, you know it’s going to sound like a challenge. You know they’re going to take it in a negative sense — how dare you tell them what to do?! They’re the boss, after all.

And yet the fact remains that there are many elements of your job that you know better than they do. YOU’RE the one doing it! You know they’re making a mistake. So what do you do?

There are times where you don’t do anything. That’s just the reality. Depending on your work environment, on your relationship with this boss, or their personality, it might be best for you to just put your head down and do it. This is obviously not a great work environment — I would even call it a toxic environment. Unfortunately, many of us have been there.

But there are possibly more times than you realize where you really can confront your boss — and it doesn’t have to be a big to-do. There is a right way to do this. And if you give it a try, you might be surprised at how well it goes.

The first thing to consider is this: is your boss telling you to do something — or asking you? And coming at it from that angle can lead to much more clear, calm communication. Because if you’re not sure, you can just ask! And that sort of ask is rarely received as an affront. Simply say something along the lines of, “Thanks, boss! Now, just to help me understand, is this something you absolutely need to be done? Or can I make a suggestion?” 

That is respectful of their authority, while also helping them to clarify what they need. Unless it’s something urgent, they will often reply, “Sure, what’s the suggestion?” To which you can then suggest that something else might be higher priority. Or you can suggest a different way to do it, or clarify your team’s objectives. They might disagree with you, but you’ve opened a dialogue for both of you to understand each other better, and ultimately you’re much more likely to find a better solution together. 

Questions are often much better than statements. In the words of Steven Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Do that. Seek to understand first: Why do you feel that way? What am I missing that you’re seeing? Questions of curiosity that honor the way they see things make it much more likely that they will engage in conversation rather than defense.