Don’t Just Agree To Disagree: Take Steps To Stand Up For What Is Right

Jan 30, 2015 1 Min Read


Malaysians are an interesting lot. In the past years, we have witnessed a few Bersih and political campaigns that successfully rallied an army of Malaysians who stood up for what they believed in, and openly disagreed with what they believed to be wrong.

In fact we all personally know at least a handful of protestors, if not more in the crowd. Or perhaps, we were in the crowd. It truly is a great feeling of unity, knowing that there is support, encouragement and an illusion of hope.

My problem is this: Sometimes I think we are more courageous to take a stand publicly with large groups (or behind the firewall of Facebook) than to voice our opposing opinion alone, even if it is in a less drastic situation at the workplace, home or social circles.

I suspect a quick question of “Would you stand up and disagree strongly with your boss if his/her decisions are obviously wrong” may not garner as much a fan club. We may just quickly retreat to our old agreeable selves. Is that any good?

The office scenario

It is not uncommon to find employees who disagree with their bosses but proceed to carry out work nonetheless.

Let’s explore a little more on the misalignment of ideas and values between you and your superiors – your manager or all the way up to the chairman of the company.

What’s different this time is that it may seem as though your hands are tied and you are marked guilty for the bad decisions made, simply by association.

So, what if you are asked to carry out a task that you disagree with? How do you deal with it?

The textbook advice is of course to ask you to just take orders, or get another job!

But let’s look at some scenarios and see how we can go beyond the normal reactions.

  1. You and your boss have differing perspectives/values

    If your boss believes in hiring externally instead of promoting internally, then it is a matter of weighing the pros and cons. There is no need to go head-on just yet with a debate.

    Instead, tactfully present the pros and cons of each option. Subtly cite examples without sounding condescending. I see no reason to leaving the company just yet.

    While you stay on and try to influence your boss, be open minded to see the pros and cons of his/her preferred approach.

    However, if it is a matter of differing values and your boss’ approach seems to harm others, then try to firstly understand his/her beliefs before explaining why it is not benefiting others.

  2. An obvious bad judgment

    You can almost predict the outcome of the decision but your boss just doesn’t or won’t see it. In cases like this, no convincing will do much help.

    Instead, strike a friendly deal with your boss that if the outcome is as bad as you predicted, the next time this scenario arises, you get to make the call.

    That is, if it is not a crucial decision that has deep consequences for many.

  3. Directives from the board or higher authorities

    Many times, direct decision makers are surpassed when orders come from the highest level in the office.

    In cases like these, impact of decisions from the board can either be drastic or insignificant.

    If many of your colleagues do not agree with the board as well, gather a group and cordially ask one of the decision makers to better understand the justification behind it.

    If you and your group of colleagues still strongly disagree, then it should be made known with good justifications as well.

    Ask for an explanation from the board. Until then, if you don’t receive a satisfying response, then re-consider if this is the company that you still wish to work for.

Parting advice

Change and demands of change seem to give a negative connotation at times like this in Malaysia.

However, at your workplace, it doesn’t need to result in a protest. You can request for reasonable explanation for what you disagree with.

I would like to believe that there are some bosses and board of directors who would respond sufficiently if we would ask politely using our magic words – ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!

Related article: Top 10 Ways To Correct Your Boss When He Makes A Mistake

Elisa is the Director of Learning & Acceleration at Leaderonomics and has worked with conventional baby boomers bosses, demanding bosses, and young and modern Gen-X bosses. She has learnt that most bosses are unique and somewhat reasonable – most of the time. Send your feedback to or click here for more HR Talk articles.

Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 31 January 2015

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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