When Is it OK to Disobey Your Boss?

When you have to go outside the box, tell your boss why.

What is “intelligent disobedience”, and how can people best leverage it? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

Intelligent disobedience is a little bit like emotional intelligence. Companies have rules which help to give order and instruction, but they aren’t intended to force us into a bad decision. There are times that you need to exercise emotional intelligence beyond the rule to solve a problem. As an example, I recently worked with a client and listened in on the phones to see how customer service agents, who as a part of their job collecting on medical bills were doing. A mother called to make payment in full to her daughters medical expenses. The agent continued to tell the parent she could not take the money on the account unless the daughter was on the phone since her daughter was over 21 and the medical laws wouldn’t allow the mother to know anything about the bill. The mother begged to pay the bill, saying her daughter was out of the country and she wanted to pay it in full and didn’t need to know any medical information as she had the bill in front of her. But the agent refused to let her pay. Finally, in exasperation, the mom said, “Well, I guess you don’t want to be paid. My daughter won’t be back in the country for 6 months. Your loss.”

Someone with intelligent disobedience would have realized the good by taking payment on the bill despite the rule that the mother technically could not pay on the policy.

This happens every day at work. The rules say I have to fire someone after they are late three times (but perhaps I know there are mitigating circumstances at home). Or I can’t offer the client a refund unless they speak to my supervisor (even though he/she is out of town for 2 weeks and I know from experience they would approve it).

Part of the growth of an individual at work is learning how to do the job when it isn’t as defined as you would like. Learn to stretch yourself, make good decisions, and when you have to go outside the box, tell your boss why. Learning to think and occasionally show intelligent disobedience will help prepare you for bigger jobs down the road that require a lot more creativity and a lot less direction.

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