When working towards a common goal with a team, it’s almost certain that there will be conflict in the team. This conflict is healthy, and allows teams of all sizes and goals to move the ball down the field towards the objective. This tension is inevitable with a team, but what sometimes blurs the lines is when you disagree with someone above you in leadership.
Every leader in this scenario is going to struggle with some aspect of disagreeing with authority over them. Some people, like myself, might simply err on the side of not bringing up the disagreement at all and remaining silent. Others may land on the other end of the spectrum and may relentlessly challenge someone in authority over them, not taking into account that they need to honor and respect those who God has put in that position.
I want to outline 5 specific approaches to respectfully disagree with those in authority over us. With that, I want to specify all of these approaches with this thought in mind: if you are working in an area where you repeatedly feel prompted to voice your disagreement with the leadership above you, you might simply be in the wrong place and may not align with the vision there. Don’t be a thorn in your leadership’s side; have healthy conflict, but if you are constantly swimming upstream, then respectfully jump out and find another river to swim in.
The first and arguably most important team dynamic is trust. This isn’t some sappy emotional team exercise where everyone sits around a campfire and shares their feelings--although this could very well work with some teams. Rather, this is you trusting that the person in authority over you bleeds the same vision that you hold true to. In fact, don’t just trust that your leader has the same vision that you do, but also trust that they want you to achieve your full potential in the culture and vision of that organization.
When you need to confront that person over you, go to them with the assurance that they want to achieve the same goal and move forward together with you. And here’s the fundamental piece of trust: if you can’t trust your leadership enough to know that you are on the same team moving towards the same goal, then you definitely need to find another organization to be in. That’s simply not healthy. Trust the leadership above you and know that they want to achieve the same goal that you do.
Assume the Best
There are going to be times that someone in a position above you says something or does something that hurts you or your team. Our first instinct as people is to assume that someone intentionally hurt us, but in leadership we can’t quickly run to this assumption.
We need to guard our emotional response to assume that someone meant to hurt us, and instead always assume the best in our leadership. Give your leadership the benefit of the doubt, and until there’s opportunity to discuss it with them, respect and honor them by assuming that they had the best intentions in mind.
This term gets thrown around a lot in leadership and teams, but it’s keenly important when addressing hurt or disagreement. Respect can take many forms, but in this context it essentially means giving them the space and opportunity to have a bad day.
Let me unpack this even further. Those that lead above us have a ton on their plate, and there are going to be occasions where they may do or say something that they didn't mean to. Respect and honor them through their bad ideas and occasional slip ups. God has placed them in authority over us and the least we can do is respect them enough to have grace with them.
Don’t Confront Them When You're Angry
This point should be elementary, but often is forgotten in the heat of the moment. If you want to have success in any of the points above, then definitely DO NOT confront them when you're angry. It’s literally impossible to respect and honor your leader when you have steam boiling out of your ears. Collect your thoughts, walk away, and come back to it tomorrow after you've had time to cool down.
Remember That You Are on the Same Team
Lastly and possibly one of the most important pillars in these approaches is the constant reminder that you and your leader are on the same team. When you work in a great organization, the leader and everyone else below them all belong and operate on the same team with the same end goal. When you choose to remember that you and your leader are on the same team, your frustration will diminish quickly. Sure, they may have still wronged you accidentally, but sometimes that happens when you're in the thick of battle. Rather than wasting your energy on holding a grudge, take the passion and energy towards the goal line and score.
These scenarios are never easy in the moment, but I promise you, if you take these approaches to your next team meeting, you’ll walk away with your head held high knowing that you approached the disagreement with godly care.
Adam Jones is the location pastor for Next Level Church's Salisbury, MA location. Adam graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a BA in Youth Ministry. When he's not meeting with people from his location or pastoring his volunteer teams, Adam can be found playing volleyball, going camping, or writing. He and his wife, Maribeth, live in Seabrook, NH.