How to Convince Your Boss You’re Right

Your boss gives you an important job to do. You are good for the job, you know what you’re doing, and you’re clear about the right answer. And then–your boss won’t go along with it. 

Worse, you’re really qualified to make this judgment call. And your boss’s logic is goofy. His/Her reason boils down to ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ or ‘just do it by the book,’ or maybe just personal preference. Your boss won’t listen, just digs in his/her heels.   

And it’s getting really irritating.

What can you do to convince your boss you’re right?

Surprise surprise, there is no guarantee.   But you can dramatically improve the odds. Here’s how.

Convincing Starts with Right Thinking

You start by getting really clear on two ideas—in your own head.

Idea 1. You are not the boss of your boss.   Your boss is the boss of you. So if it ever really comes down solely to who’s got the power, you can hang it up. 

Deal with that.

Idea 2. You will rarely convince anyone—particularly your boss—that you are right, as long as that equates to convincing them that they are wrong. If “I’m right” rhymes with “you’re wrong,” you can also hang it up.

Are we clear? 

If so, then you’ve figured out that “How do I convince my boss that I’m right?” is entirely, 100%, the wrong question. Really—completely wrong. If you got sucked in by the title of this blog, then you have to do some re-defining of your objectives—right now.

Think about it. If your objective involves “I’m right” then you’ve got an ego problem. I mean, why is this all about you? If you’re a serious team member, shouldn’t the question be “what’s the right answer” rather than “who’s got the right answer?”

And if your objective involves “convincing someone else” then you’ve got a control problem. I mean, why should you assume the issue is one of changing someone else to think like you, rather than of creating new joint collaborative thinking?

Redefine “Convincing Your Boss”

Imagine—even though it’s extremely unlikely—that, just for the sake of argument—your answer isn’t fully perfect. And imagine, though equally unlikely, that you actually could convince your boss of the correctness of your flawed recommendation. That would not be the optimal ending, would it?

That’s one small reason for you to engage in a dialogue, rather than a wrestling match. But here’s a much bigger reason.

The Paradox of Influence

It turns out, one of the best ways to convince someone is to listen to them first. That’s the gist of what a world expert on influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini, has to tell us. If you listen to someone first, the tendency of humans is usually to reciprocate—which means, to then listen to you.

But this reciprocal listening must have a genuine quality about it. It can’t be just, ‘OK I’ll let you blab for a while as the price for letting me give my pitch, so let me just grit my teeth, OK off you go…”

It actually has to be a genuine act of respect. It has to come from true curiosity, not from a kit-bag of carefully pre-designed questions. You actually have to, for lack of a better word, care.

To Convince Your Boss, First Give Up on Convincing Your Boss

If you want to increase the odds of convincing your boss, first—give it up. Completely. Give up on the objective of ‘convincing your boss.’

In its place, commit yourself to an attitude of curiosity. Go ask your boss:

Boss, I know we’ve been cross-wise on this one. And you know what, I have to admit, I could, of course, be wrong. And if so, I probably don’t even understand how I’m wrong. So please, do me a favor. 

I would really appreciate it if you’d tell me all about how you see this issue—from start to finish. I want to completely understand how you come at it, and how you came to see it that way. I am truly curious, and want to know.

And that’s it. If all we do here today is help me learn from you how to think about this, it will have been a great day. Period.

Then listen. And plan to say ‘thanks,’ and walk away. 

Yes, walk away. 

Because if your boss has any interest in discussing your point of view, (s)he will ask you about it at this point. And if they don’t have any interest, go see Ideas 1 and 2 at the outset of this article, the part where it says they’re your boss, not vice versa.

Here’s the paradox. Assuming your idea really was pretty good, going through this process will considerably increase the odds of it being accepted by your boss. But only—only—if you are willing to completely give up your objective of bending another person’s will to the force of yours.

If you’re willing to give it up, you’ll increase the odds of getting it to happen.  The secret is: It’s not about you.

11 replies
  1. Jim Monk
    Jim Monk says:

    That’s a good one.  Well written, pithy, to the point.  It reminds me of the sign in some shops —  1.  The customer is always right.  2.  If you think the customer is wrong, read #1.

    Thanks for a good blog.


  2. Right Wired
    Right Wired says:

    Think about it. If your objective involves “I’m right” then you’ve got an ego problem. I mean, why is this all about you? If you’re a serious team member, shouldn’t the question be “what’s the right answer” rather than “who’s got the right answer?””

    What a load of nonsense..

    And I am right, and that’s ok.

    Don’t hire someone to be a subject matter expert on something, and they never listen to anything they say. If I tell you you’re wrong, I’m doing it for the good of the company, not because of my ego.

    The only people who bring ego into their jobs are management.

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      I don’t think you read the article carefully. If you had, you would recognize you and I are in violent agreement on this one. I may have been a little too sarcastic in my phrasing of it, but you’ll see that the insistence on you being right is the beginning of the failure of all dialogue. One has to start with the assumption that one could be wrong, and continue to be open-minded about it.

      The other thing we are in violent agreement about is that if your objective is to convince your boss that you are right, them by implication your boss is wrong, and you will never succeed.

      The fundamental point of all of this is that an earnest dialogue seeking the truth, is always better then anyone bullheadedly insisting they are right and trying to convince others of their way. I explicitly stated that the title of the blog was it self sarcastic. I think we are both right, if I may say so.

      Except for the part where you say, “what a load of nonsense.” That’s where you’re wrong. 🙂

  3. Aleco J.
    Aleco J. says:

    i dont know what to tell but one can either agree or disagree in the negotiation. Some bosses have ego, not to accept/admit they are not right always. when you mention who is right then the one thinks right turns to be the one who does admit the wrong doing.

  4. mikbe
    mikbe says:

    It is so refreshing to see someone else approach this from the concept that, hey, you might be wrong. If you think you’re always right, then you probably aren’t.

    One of the biggest problem, I feel, with human interaction is our inability to admit we might be wrong. So many problems can directly be traced to our unwillingness to admit we might actually be the ones at fault.

    I feel it’s important to always approach a problem from the position that I might be wrong. When I can honestly tell myself what’s wrong with my own ideas then I can address them, change my mind, improve my ideas, and become a better person.

  5. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    Thank you. I needed this article! And I agree it is about creating a dialogue – necessary for agreement. But boy oh boy – both parties need to be open to being wrong. Otherwise…no improvement, no solutions, no problem solving. This is the difficulty and frustration with the issue. But … Sigh … I keep rereading idea #1!

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      Peggy, keep the faith. The unsung power of idea #1 is that it has a knockon effect on the other party – once they recognize you’re not challenging their power, they tend to relax. No guarantees – but it’s not hopeless by far.


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