Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. I have a rather disagreeable colleague. The boss won't deal with her. What should I do about it?

A. I'm afraid it depends on how disagreeable she really is. Some interesting research found that those at work who are more likely to 'disagree' display more get-ahead qualities and tend to enhance their careers.

Obviously, it rather depends on how you 'disagree' in your workplace.

I know office wisdom suggests the best way to keep your career moving forward is to be a yes person - always nodding your head up and down a lot. Shaking it sideways to disagree with your boss may be damaging to your career.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that all those voluntary sector staff out there should start disagreeing with their bosses. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if a little more of the 'yes, boss' attitude in the third sector would be helpful.

But bosses really do need helpful criticism and comments. The disagreements need to be in the form of contributions.

What we don't want is a bunch of complainers. We all know the staff member whose first reaction to any proposal from authority is to look immediately at the downside. However, if there are genuine pitfalls to a proposal, bosses need to know them. So here are some tips on how you can disagree at work:

- Never disagree about a problem without having a suggested solution.

- Pick your battles carefully. Don't be seen as always complaining.

- Test the waters - check out your ideas and be prudent in putting them forward.

- Frame your disagreement within the context of moving the organisation forward.

- If you see your boss getting irritated by your behaviour, stop it.

- Once you've made your point, and the decision is made, get on with implementing it.

On the other hand, if the disagreements are because a person always sees the glass as half empty, or if things become personalised and acrimonious, I suggest you should have a private chat with him or her. It might be a good idea to make some kind of professional personal coaching available to them.

And if you are not getting support from your boss in dealing with your difficult colleague, perhaps there might be other senior people in your organisation to whom you could turn for support and advice.

It's not your responsibility to solve all of your boss's problems. You should do all you can to help him or her, but ultimately it's the boss who must carry the can.

STEPHEN BUBB is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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