I have a superior who often communicates incorrect statements during meetings. While I want this question to be more general, because I have been in this situation with many unique settings, I will say that the statements seem to be meant to steer decision making.

As an example:
It seems as though before I arrived at this company no one had any knowledge of SEO. However I have quite a strong background in web development and internet marketing. In fact I'm passionate about it:

The other day this superior dashed my "improved SEO" reasons for replacing the company website with a more modern one. He did so by interrupting me to explain to the other superiors that search engine rankings cannot be manipulated and that SEO should not even be considered to be a benefit of this project.

Clearly search rankings can be improved and clearly there is some agenda against a new website project. I took this as a choose-your-battle situation and allowed him to thrash my SEO knowledge in order to move on to my other points which did result in a new website project... However this sort of situation seems to pop up quite often.

In these situations should an employee even try to explain that such a statement is incorrect?

  • I added country based on your profile, if that's not correct feel free to edit your post! – enderland Sep 10 '15 at 0:22
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    SEO is kind of a misnomer. It officially stands for "Search Engine Optimisation" but for example take a look at Google's SEO guidelines. They are essentially all best practices to optimize the usability for human visitors and crawlers alike. It could be that your superior doesn't like the word SEO but would still support the specific improvements you want (improved usability, improved standards compliance, accessibility for users with disabilities, improved mobile and tablet support, etc.). – Brandin Sep 10 '15 at 6:01
  • So, the web site was approved. Simply say we don't agree on that point and let the meeting move on - he is the boss. Maybe you were getting a little to passionate about SEO for the group. – paparazzo Sep 10 '15 at 7:36
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    "improved SEO" doesn't in itself strike me as a reason to do a (potentially expensive and time-consuming) complete replacement of the website - especially as the existing one could be polished for far less outlay and risk. There may be a lot of factors you can't see, such as bespoke back-end integrations. You should tread carefully as things are very unlikely to be as simple as "he's incorrect, I'm right". – Julia Hayward Sep 10 '15 at 8:25
  • @JuliaHayward SEO is only 1 benefit and a major benefit if a website structure is hurting its own rankings. However SEO and getting a project greenlit is not the subject at hand. – Ben Racicot Sep 12 '15 at 17:10

How about a friendly chat with the Superior in question after the meeting?

Sounds odd? Hear me out.

The underlying goal here is that you have an idea that you believe would help the company. Unfortunately, a member of the current leadership does not believe that this idea would work. With this said, the superior's reasoning for this may vary, the superior may have a reasonable explanation or he/she may not. But the goal here isn't whether the superior is right, but whether or not you can convince your superior into looking things your way.

Not a technical question mind you, but that of persuasion.

This said, I am not 100% aware of your situation. But based on what you have said, you are an expert on this idea, but your superior, according to you, is not. With this in mind, can you think of anyway of presenting this idea that would benefit that superior in question?

For example, if your superior is in sales. You can present the idea in a way that the idea will lead to better search engine results, leading to more consumer exposure, leading to more sales. Again, this casual chain would change depending on what that person does.

The idea here is how can the idea directly benefit your superior. Once this is accomplished, the next step is identifying who else you need to talk to before the meeting to get onboard with the idea such that one you present it again, there will be a group of people who are in agreement.

tldr: Good idea. Presented it a little bit too early from the looks of it. Got some flak. A good course of action now is to regroup. Address any points of opposition (your superior). Gather more support and pitch it again.

On the offhand that your superior did not have a valid reasoning, then I would have to defer to JB King's response in that are you willing to face the consequences (albeit extreme, I mean losing a job for pitching an idea?) for pushing this.

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Get on the same page before the meeting.

Yes, the point is to steer decision making and your boss should let everyone know what direction he is going. There isn't time in many cases, but departments/groups/teams should have a meeting before they go into such meetings with outside members. At least the boss should outline what his intention is for the meeting. This way, you can do your job and promote his agenda instead of pushing your skill set.

I always try to get with my boss before these meetings. It is difficult when you have the expertise, but don't know what the company needs. There will be a tremendous urge to want to correct him - DON'T DO IT! You can improve the SEO, but will it really be to the point to improve business? Some products and services are sold through more traditional channels and few people search the web for them. This is just an example.

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    I think you could correct him without correcting him "I was under the impression that following Google's SEO recommendations would help us, at least in the case of Google rankings. I'd be interested to know why it is you think that's not true." Let him correct you. You might even learn something. – Amy Blankenship Sep 10 '15 at 18:25
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    @AmyBlankenship - I would only do this in private or possibly among the team depending on the supervisor and my relationship with them, but never in front of others. – user8365 Sep 10 '15 at 19:20
  • @AmyBlankenship What did you mean by "correct him without correcting him"? – Frank FYC Sep 10 '15 at 19:40
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    If you said what I said above in my comment, would you actually be correcting him, or just asking a clarifying question? Do you think he might rethink his position in the process of answering? If not, do you think your clarifying question might give others something they could go research if they so choose to understand what the real situation is? Notice how I'm asking you a lot of questions? Why do you think I'm doing that? – Amy Blankenship Sep 10 '15 at 22:23
  • @AmyBlankenship Your idea is strongly passive-aggressive. People often general don't realize they are being treated this way, but they seem to dislike it. I would try to avoid this. – yo' Sep 19 '15 at 10:15

Would you be prepared to back up your argument with specific sources? For example, while there are tons of possible ways to improve search rankings, which could you guarantee would work as that would likely be required for you to have a chance at winning the argument here.

I'd likely consider the question of whether or not you are prepared to leave the company because of the other managers siding with someone that may well believe something that you heavily disagree. If you aren't prepared to have your job on the line, then I'd advocate staying quiet since whether you like it or not, your job could well be on the line soon in this case.

While you may believe the statement is incorrect, there can be the question of how well can you know precisely the context well enough to ensure that you are believed more than the other person. For example, consider the question of, "What is 2+2?" that some may answer "4" and others may answer "22" and others may ask for clarification of what are "2" and "+" to denote as one could infer the natural number addition and arrive at an answer of "4" and some may infer that each "2" is a character and the "+" is a concatenation operation so that the result would be "22." How prepared were you for me to claim the numbers as characters? Similarly, I could throw out a challenge of "I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 3. I'll give 10 guesses to hit it and claim you won't be able to do it," where I could think of some obscure number like pi minus e plus 1 that I doubt many people would guess in their first dozen guesses. Beware of going head to head with those that may enjoy messing with your mind.

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  • This might be the answer. If i have 5 good reasons to do something perhaps I need 1 or more good pieces of backup material for each. Then my counter arguments will be founded in truth. But still does not answer the actual question. Unless the answers would be too dynamic for a SE page. – Ben Racicot Sep 17 '15 at 16:38

Should I tell a superior [in a meeting] their statement is incorrect?

(I will not focus on how to prevent the situation, as this is not the question. But of course preventing a bad situation is better than trying to fix it.)

Let's try to approach this one methodically. Why would your superior make an incorrect statement?

He does not know better.

Does it matter and will be result be unalterable when the meeting is over? The answer is usually "No.". Any decision can be revoked due to "new" information. So it is sufficient to update your superior with your information after the meeting. If the answer is actually "Yes.", then politely state your information. The listeners will realize themselves that your statement contradicts your superior, no need to rub everyone's nose in. If nobody would want your input, you wouldn't be in the meeting.

He does know better.

If he does know better, yet states something else, it luckily doesn't really matter why he does it. He has a reason and your public correction will go against his agenda, no matter if his agenda is a good or bad one. He believes so much in his agenda, that he does not mind to be flexible with the truth. In such a case, correcting your superior means he will be pissed off and you gained nothing.

If you update the superior after the meeting with your information and he does know better, nothing bad will happen. He might tell you the reason, he might pretend that he didn't know better but that it is "not important" enough to revoke the decision now or he might tell you to care about your own stuff.

So, reviewing all the possible paths, it's easy to see that you should not say anything in the meeting, unless absolutely necessary and always update the superior with your information, because no matter what the reason was, it will end up the best way - if you couldn't prevent the situation.

As a side note, if your superior states something incorrect or dumb in a meeting, you can just raise your eyebrows (this of course requires the right seat). If they are good and it is the first case scenario, they will catch this and continue with something like:"but I'm no expert on this. What is your opinion?"

dashed my "improved SEO" reasons for replacing the company website

This is actually quite something different. You said "X" and he said you are wrong. It's basically the reverse situation. I think you should defend your position within reasonable limits:"Yes, you are right, it's not possible to manipulate them, but it's possible to optimize the content so they can better grasp what the website is about and therefore navigate the search engine users better." The big problem is, you usually don't have a good comeback when you need it, unless you are well-prepared for the objection. There is no better way to handle that situation than you did. Evaluate how important it actually is to insist that you are right and then follow your instinct. You can also just state that you disagree and go on:"Well, I beg to differ, but as there are other good reasons, we should focus on them then."

Okay, I violate my first statement and write something about how to prevent it:

If you expect objections, not only prepare counter-arguments, but add them to your presentation or lecture! Nobody can state that SEO is hocus pocus, if you have a bullet point:"Why some SEO is hocus pocus and some not".

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  • Its been a while since I posted this question and you seem to hit most points I've already come to accept. Thanks @LarsFriedrich – Ben Racicot Sep 18 '15 at 20:54

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