It’s never easy to disagree with your boss, let alone anyone else at work. 

In fact, it can be downright intimidating. But as product marketers, it’s our job to question things as we help shape strategy and achieve business objectives. It’s in our DNA – solve problems and come up with solutions.

Playing an active and collaborative role at work requires product marketers to have a voice, to form an educated opinion, and to share it with others. Your point of view may not always win or be agreed upon, but that’s ok. The point is, you provided another viewpoint for your superiors and others to consider.

Disagreeing with your superior isn’t about challenging authority by saying, “You’re wrong and I’m right.” It’s about positively contributing to the decision-making process and overall success of the organization. It also plays a critical role in helping to foster a culture of open communication, promote critical thinking and diverse perspectives, and avoid groupthink.  

Here are some best practices for disagreeing with your superiors at work–along with insights from other PMM leaders

When it’s not okay to disagree

Most of the time it’s okay to disagree at work. But, some of the time it isn’t. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to do it properly, it’s best to cover those situations when opposing your superior’s point of view isn’t recommended. 

  1. Being in a state of constant disagreement: When you’re in constant opposition on every issue you become an annoyance and a hindrance. Instead of being helpful, you’re fostering an environment of negativity and resistance. This hinders creativity, open-mindedness, and collaboration
  2. Not knowing the context: Disagreeing without a solid understanding of the context, background, or all relevant information can make your disagreement seem uninformed and impulsive. Do your research before you make your claim. 
  3. Being inflexible: Being unwilling to seek out or consider the other person’s point of view can lead to unproductive conversations. A refusal to compromise and not being open to alternative perspectives creates more conflict instead of a positive resolution.
  4. Choosing the wrong time: Disagreeing at a time when tensions are high, or the team is under significant pressure, can add unnecessary stress and distract from more urgent priorities.
  5. Failure to provide solutions: Simply pointing out problems without offering constructive solutions can be perceived as unhelpful. It goes a long way when you come to the table with an argument that has a solution. 
  6. Being culturally insensitive: Know your audience. Disagreeing without considering cultural nuances or norms can lead to misunderstandings and tension.

When it’s okay to disagree

Even though there are situations where being disagreeable isn’t good, there are many settings where it’s positive or even welcomed. 

In many circumstances, your voice isn’t only valued, it’s needed. Here are several situations where speaking up and disagreeing can be helpful. Who knows, your superior may even thank and praise you for it! 

  1. Having a different perspective: An alternative viewpoint could contribute to a better decision or outcome. Again, make sure you’re not arguing for the sake of arguing and that your differing viewpoint has a real chance of making a difference.
  2. The decision has ethical concerns: If you believe a decision or action goes against ethical standards or company values, it’s not only acceptable but often necessary to voice your concerns.
  3. You have expertise in that area: When the disagreement is related to your area of expertise or responsibility, it’s necessary for you to share your insights. This is what your superior pays you for.
  4. You can improve processes: When you know your idea can improve processes, workflows, or strategies, speak up. Your insight could have a larger impact on the whole organization. 
  5. There are safety concerns: Another crucial time to speak up is if you believe a decision poses a safety and security risk to the company or individuals.
  6. The company culture encourages it: In organizations that value open communication, collaboration, and diverse perspectives, expressing disagreement is often encouraged. Even so, don’t get carried away, and be sure to pay attention to the times when it’s not okay to disagree, as mentioned above. 

The 3 Bs of how to disagree with superiors at work

Now that you know when to disagree and not to, we can talk about how to disagree effectively when those opportunities arise. This way you have a positive and productive interaction that not only makes you look good but benefits the company as a whole. 

B1: Be prepared 

Choose the right place. Pick an appropriate time and setting for the conversation. Avoid bringing up disagreements in a public or confrontational manner. Also, make sure you thoroughly understand the issue and have all the relevant information before you present your argument. This’ll help you articulate your points clearly and confidently. 

Do your research and have data to back up your claims if necessary. Data and hard facts can be powerful tools in your arsenal to convince your superior of your point of view. 

B2: Be non-confrontational

Disagreeing with superiors at work, or anyone for that matter, can be a delicate situation that requires finesse and tact. It’s important to use diplomatic language. Frame your disagreement respectfully and professionally and avoid accusatory or confrontational language. 

Focus on the issue at hand, not on personal differences. Active listening before expressing your disagreement ensures that you fully understand the other person's perspective. It also demonstrates respect for their viewpoint and may help you find common ground.

Express your disagreement using "I" statements to make it clear that you’re sharing your perspective rather than making absolute statements about the other person's viewpoint. Stay calm and composed even if the discussion becomes heated. Emotional reactions can hinder effective communication. 

B3: Be collaborative 

Presenting your viewpoint can be seen as being collaborative, as long as it isn’t confrontational or combative. To set the stage for your conversation, acknowledge your superior’s expertise. This helps to establish a positive tone and shows that you respect their knowledge.

Finding common ground also helps in establishing a more collaborative and constructive conversation. Do this by identifying areas of agreement or shared goals before presenting your differing viewpoint. Also, come to the table with solutions. Don’t just point out the problems. This shows that you’re focused on finding a resolution rather than just highlighting issues.

What today’s PMMs think 

In writing this article, I wanted to make sure that my point of view wasn’t the only one shared on this topic, I asked PMM leaders their thoughts. Here are their responses.  

Leaders should encourage discussion, debate, and disagreement

“Debate is healthy and leads to insights, innovation, and alignment. It can be intimidating to disagree with a superior but it shouldn’t be. Leaders should encourage discussion, debate, and disagreement in order to maximize the outcomes and resources of the organization.”

Tim Parkin, President of Parkin Consulting

Start with empathy and have strong evidence

“In conveying disagreements to superiors (or anyone really), it requires empathy and strong evidence. You need to start with the belief that their intentions are good and understand their objectives. 
“Then you have to lay out evidence for your point of view. None of it should be personal, and all of it should be towards furthering the organization’s goals. It’s also important to not call them out in public. Find another avenue to have that discussion and offer it as a way to enhance their own POV. And ask lots of scenario questions along the lines of 'Have you considered xyz?' or 'How do we handle it if xyz happens?' Ask for them to help YOU see the light."

Derek Cheng, Marketing Advisor at AI Incubator

Have a 1:1 conversation – don’t do it in a public setting

“Never acceptable to do it in front of your boss's boss. It's best to do it in 1:1s whenever possible. And whenever possible, bring data to support why you disagree. That makes it less personal and more about reflecting what the data shows.” 

Stacy Freeborge Junge, Vice President of Marketing at Truth Initiative

Focus on facts not opinions

"It’s always okay to disagree, as long as you believe that your disagreement will lead to a better business outcome. As with all professional communication, focus on facts, not opinions.
"I would advise phrasing a disagreement in a way that furthers a conversation, not shutting it down. For example, leading with 'Yes, and…' or 'Let me offer another perspective' are positive ways to "disagree" without putting the other person into a spot they can’t get out of.” 

Polina Melamed, VP of Brand Marketing at Choreograph

When done right can foster trust 

“Disagreeing with a superior at work, when done appropriately, is a crucial part of fostering a culture of open communication, trust, and transparency. It's necessary in situations involving ethical concerns, company interests, and employee safety, and when feedback is sought.
"Effective disagreement includes choosing the right moment, maintaining respect and professionalism, using "I" statements, relying on factual arguments, actively listening, proposing solutions, and being ready for any outcome. This practice is not about winning an argument but about contributing to a transparent and trusting work environment where diverse viewpoints are valued and considered.” 

Yahya Mohamed Mao, Head of Business Development and Marketing at Swiss GRC 

Talk about the pros and cons 

"You’ll usually need a superior argument backed by the data and often pre-sold to others in the room. Perhaps choose one or two common difficult conversations and then talk about the pros and cons of different ways to handle them."

Steven Miller, Product Marketing Consultant

Be open-minded

“Don’t carry the burden of agreeing to something you don’t believe in. It’s best to convey your disagreement at the proper time with a perfect solution while being open and accepting of the person’s broader vision.” 

Bhavika Patel  Co-Founder of HK Infosoft

Wrapping Up

Remember, the goal isn’t to "win" the argument but to have a productive discussion that leads to a better understanding and, ideally, a positive outcome for the team or organization. 

Approaching each disagreement with professionalism and respect can go a long way in getting your viewpoint seen and heard.