If you have a concern about instructions given by a superior, consider these tips from Ira Chaleff, author of “Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong”:

  • If an order makes you uncomfortable, ask for clarification.
  • If you are still uncomfortable, explain your reasons clearly.
  • If obeying would also put the leader at risk, explain why.
  • Suggest a better alternative when possible.
  • Know that “I was just following orders” is not a valid defense.
  • If necessary, respectfully decline to obey despite short-term consequences.

If you’re a leader or a manager who’s approached by a junior colleague with concerns over a request or plan of action, executive coach and consultant Chaleff suggests following these guidelines:

  • Recognize that we all have blind spots that increase risk.
  • Be alert to the pressures of quotas and the temptations of performance rewards.
  • If a conscientious employee expresses discomfort with an order, pay attention.
  • If a junior employee suggests an innovation, check any impulse to shut it down.
  • Whether or not you accept an employee’s views, express appreciation to him or her for voicing them.
  • Recognize that like a guide dog, a constructive dissenter can be your best friend.