How do you get your opinions through to management?

If you get asked how you communicate with management, in whatever way the question is phrased, be alert.

Communication with management is a survival skill, and a necessary business skill like few others. Some people are excellent communicators, and can make careers working with management. Others simply don't know how to talk to management, and that is exactly what this type of question is about.

The story is that as a staff member, you have to work with management, and management decisions. That's where the difficult questions start.

You can get questions like:

  • Say you disagree with a management decision. What do you do about it, and how do you make your reasons understood?
  • You think management has made a risky decision, one which will lose money. You have some figures to back up your opinion. How do you make your point with management?
  • Management has done something which you consider illegal. What's the best way to tell them about it?

You can see how sensitive, and how tricky, these questions can be. These are real situations, and you're being asked, in effect, if you're prepared to take responsibility. If you're way down the ladder of an organization, it's not easy to tell managers they've made a mess. You might even get away with saying nothing, if it's not your job to deal with the issues.

However- You get asked these questions because they're dealing with a very basic principle. Your obligation to the employer is to inform them of problems. For professionals, it's an expectation which comes with the job.

The questions are made a lot trickier by the fact you're being put on the spot. You can't actually avoid them. Not having an opinion isn't even a theoretical option. You're being asked to show what you can do.

Communication with managers

There are ways of communicating with managers which aren't career suicide. Generally speaking, you have to go through the hierarchy, unless you have a direct input to management.

(Note: If you do have a direct input, that's why you're being asked these questions, and you can assume the answer is very important.)

First of all, you have to define the problem, as well as answer the question. With the first two questions above, you're given two choices which are really about how you communicate. With the third question, you have a legal problem, which brings with it a few more considerations.

They're also a lot more subtle than they look:

Say you disagree with a management decision. What do you do about it, and how do you make your reasons understood?

Explanation of the question

This is a said to be a difference of opinion, to start with. Nothing is set in stone, you just don't think the right decision was made. You may be right, but how to express it is the real issue.

Bearing in mind that a whole management board probably made the decision, your opinion has to carry some weight, to even be heard.

So you have to define the question and the situation as being your understanding of how to communicate effectively with management. This is a pretty basic question, so you need to structure it:

OK, my opinion is that management is wrong. To make that clear to management, I have to present my opinion through channels. It's the only way to communicate properly, and I need to be sure I'm making my case effectively.

First, I discuss the matter with my immediate manager, and voice my concerns. That way, I'll also get some feedback and explanation of the decision.

Next, I need to know what the channels are, to take it up the line, and my manager can also give me some guidance, if he thinks it's justified.

Then, I can give management my opinions, and the reasons for those opinions. I don't really think I'd be doing my job properly if I didn't.

As you can see, this is really a formal approach. You need to talk to management in the proper way. There can be real, and instant, problems for you if you don't do things that way.

Most important, in all questions to do with communication with management:

  • Don't go over your manager's head, it will be resented.
  • Don't go outside the working methods in the organization, because nobody will know what to do. All organizations have some level of bureaucracy, and if you don't push the right buttons your 100 page report can literally be lost on someone's desk.

The next question is about money. The minute you hear anything to do with money in a job interview, get focused.

You think management has made a risky decision, one which will lose money. You have some figures to back up your opinion. How do you make your point with management?

Explanation of the question

This question usually relates to jobs where money, profit, and costs are involved. If you're an accountant, you can expect several of these questions in various forms. If you're an administrator, you might get fewer questions, but they're very relevant to the job.

This is slightly easier than the previous question in the sense you have some figures to back you up. It's a lot more sensitive, however, in the fact that someone has already done some figures, and you're about to contradict them. You could be treading on toes here.

However-

Your obligation to your employer is that you are aware of the problem and should tell them if you consider there's a risk involved in the decision. In many jobs this is a real obligation, something you're required to do, as well as an ethical obligation.

I think it's my duty to report anything where I see a risk to the employer. Because I know someone has already done the figures for the decision as it stands, I have to present my own figures effectively, and according to the procedures required by the organization.

I would first confer with my own manager, and show my own figures to him or her, before taking the matter further. That way we can check them, and make sure my estimates are correct. If I'm right, we can proceed to take the matter higher.

I'd like to emphasize that I would be acting in the best interests of the company, and I would make a point of getting some guidance in the proper way of dealing with what could be a sensitive matter.

You've covered yourself and said you're doing things according to procedures. You've also said you would make sure someone checked your figures, which is absolutely essential in matters like this.

Management has done something which you consider illegal. What's the best way to tell them about it?

If the other two questions were tricky, this one has a few added problems as well as the same ones they dealt with:

  • Before you go accusing management of acting illegally, you need to be very sure of your facts.
  • Management has almost certainly already had outside legal advice, or may have an in house legal team. You're saying they're wrong.
  • Getting a second opinion from another set of lawyers is likely to be expensive. Not as expensive as the lawsuits from doing something illegal, but management is going to want to be very sure of what it's getting, and why it's getting it.

You need to be diplomatic, as well as very professional. For this one, you start covering yourself from the opening sentence of your answer:

I'm not a lawyer. I'd have to be very sure of my facts to even consider making an allegation that the company was acting in any way illegally.

I'd check my facts first, and get some verification before raising the matter from someone with the proper legal and professional expertise. This would be a person or firm the company could ask for further information.

I would then raise the matter first with my own immediate manager, and explain that I've received credible information on this issue.

Then we could proceed to investigate the problem at a higher level.

All bases are covered here. You've stayed within the procedural circuits. You've also made the point that you aren't guessing, and have made the effort to confirm your views.

That's the basic format for dealing with communication with managers.

Everything must be done properly, within the normal operations framework.

Talking to management is easier than you think.

It's making sure they listen that's the skill you must have.