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Disagreeing with a Boss, Part 2: Example

interview tips Oct 14, 2022

Last week, I talked about a commonly asked behavioral interview question:

Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with your boss/leadership?

In Part 1 (click here to read), I discussed the importance of turning this negative situation into a positive example. It can be done with the right tone, strategic messaging and utilization of the S.T.A.R.L. (Situation. Task. Actions. Results. Learnings.) method to structure your answer in the most effective way.

Today, we continue the conversation by focusing on the answer itself. Below are some key points to remember and examples of how you should be responding to this tricky question.

Example

First, start by restating the question with a positive spin. Focus on the opportunity and resolution of this experience more than the disagreement itself.

“Sue, great question. You’d like me to tell you about a time I had an opportunity to share a differing perspective with my boss?”

This sets the tone right from the start. From here, you can dive into your S.T.A.R.L. Method.

Situation

“The situation occurred late in 2017 when I was a Program Manager focused on supply chain at Google. We had been working with a difficult vendor that supplied CPU components for our Nest devices. My boss, Jane, who was Director of Program Management, asked me to step in and renegotiate our contract for 2018. Specifically, she wanted me to ask this difficult client for a 10% reduction across the board in cost, which added up to approximately $2 million. She wanted this price deduction to happen over a 12-month period of time. 

“This direction happened during a meeting with a critical stakeholder, so I just took it all in, listened, and asked some follow-up questions. However, I didn’t outwardly disagree with Jane in that forum because it wasn’t appropriate.”

Task

“My task was clear. I needed to renegotiate with this vendor.” 

Action #1

“The first action I needed to take was to schedule a follow-up meeting with Jane. I had always experienced Jane to be really open to my ideas, and she was an expert in vendor management. I knew that if I went to her and told her my main objective was to understand the reasoning behind this decision, she would be open to my feedback.

“I created a list of questions, specifically asking about the reasoning and where the directive was coming from. I wanted to understand if she was open to alternative solutions. At the end of the meeting, I asked Jane for three days to come up with an action plan for her. While Jane was friendly in her response, she was pretty stern that this was the direction the company needed to take.

“I stood my ground calmly and politely, and she granted me the three days I asked for.”

Action #2

“The second action was getting to work. That started with data gathering. I mentioned this was a difficult client and there is a little bit of additional context to provide. The interactions to this point had been pretty poor, and they had missed three critical shipments during 2017. With those two items to focus on, I went and found Bob. He was the former stakeholder and Program Manager dealing with this vendor for three years. 

“Bob confirmed that they were difficult to work with and had missed several shipments during his time on the account. Secondly, I went to our customer success team to ask if I could get some documentation. Within that data, I was able to find some additional negative interactions with this vendor. 

“Third, I researched competitors. I identified three specific CPU competitors that might be able to offer us alternatives. Fourth, I wanted to stack rank. Part of that research was reaching out to former colleagues and friends at some of Google’s competitors to figure out if this was a good move and see if they had any experience with any of these vendors. This allowed me to stack rank these companies. 

“Lastly, I had to reach out to these companies and set up meetings as quickly as possible. I brought others into these meetings, including a person from sales, a technical expert and the customer success person I talked to before.”

Action #3

“I needed to compile all the data into two formats: a Google spreadsheet and a Google slide presentation. Ultimately, what I wanted to identify for Jane was the customer focus of these three alternative organizations, their price points and their perceived ability to ship and deliver on time.” 

Action #4

“I had the second meeting with Jane and presented my findings. I made recommendations based on the data I gathered. I also highlighted the benefits and challenges of switching vendors, especially this late in the year. Lastly, I presented an anticipated timeline for how we could make the change. My final recommendation was that I could either present this to leadership or Jane could present it herself.” 

Results

“Ultimately, the results were that Jane and the executive team agreed with my number one choice for an alternative vendor, AMD, and we moved forward with them. The cost reduction of using AMD was not 10%. It was 5%. Their price point came in a little higher, but we were still able to save $1 million a year. In addition, we had no delays with them during the time I was in this role. All deliveries were on-time or ahead of schedule. 

“The kudos I received was a promotion. This project was a big part of it, as it was highlighted at the top of my promotion packet. Lastly, was the documentation piece. I documented the way I conducted research with the vendor. This was actually shared with our marketing team. They took the same approach and switched to another vendor that saved them $300,000 in 2018. It was a huge win for the organization to replace two bad vendors.”

Learnings

“What I learned from this experience was the importance of listening and asking questions before challenging leadership. In addition, research and data are obviously critical to success when you have a disagreement or an opportunity to share your perspective with your boss.

Watch the full video below on this topic for additional context and tips:

For more interview training resources, check out my YouTube channel, follow my weekly blog or visit the Practice Interviews website.


Jeff H. Sipe

Jeff has interviewed over 1000 people in his career and previously spent five years working at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. You likely found Jeff through YouTube and you will find the same level of dedication in his one on one practice interview sessions.

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