Giving constructive feedback isn’t easy. It takes skill, practice, and sensitivity. It also happens to be an inevitable and necessary part of any healthy working relationship. Typically, you give feedback to your peers and receive it from your manager. But what happens when the roles are reversed and you need to provide information to help your boss better manage your team?
Giving upward feedback, as it's also sometimes called, can be daunting. Of course, it also takes bravery to broach difficult conversations. But good managers will appreciate employees willing to venture heartfelt and thoughtful criticism. After all, studies show that teams with managers who receive feedback see a greater increase in productivity and performance than those with managers who receive no feedback at all.
So, below, you’ll find five tips on how to give constructive feedback to your manager.
1. Consider whether feedback is warranted
Before you decide to give feedback or not, it’s important to reflect on the situation to see whether giving constructive feedback is warranted. Ask yourself if you might be overreacting or have a clouded perception of the issue. Or maybe this was an isolated situation? Is it possible that your boss—who is human, after all—was just having a bad day?
On the other hand, there are certainly valid reasons for giving your boss feedback. The most common are to prevent misunderstandings from sliding and tensions from going unaddressed. Maybe your boss’s expectations of you are unclear. Maybe you don’t understand what work you should prioritize. Maybe your work keeps piling up, you’re overworked, your team is understaffed, and you don’t think your boss understands this.
If unnaddressed, misunderstanding and tension (and added stress) can quickly deteriorate your working relationship with your manager. So, having a conversation to share constructive feedback can help you resolve issues and clarify misunderstandings. It can also demonstrate that you value transparency and trust. Think of it like your ISO accreditation but for building good working relationships.
Also, before you speak with your boss, consider how they might receive your feedback. Perhaps you can gauge this from observing how they reacted to feedback from your colleagues, even of the neutral or positive kind. While most managers may take negative feedback with a pinch of salt, your feedback mileage might vary. Unless handled skillfully, any hostility or aggravation that you trigger could undermine the quality of your entire relationship. Hopefully it doesn’t, but if you suspect it could come to that, your best bet might be to bring any serious negative feedback to HR first.
2. Be specific
Once you’ve taken stock of the situation and decided that reaching out to your boss is the best policy, there are some things to consider to go about it professionally. The first is to prepare. Figure out precisely what you want to say and practice by rehearsing aloud before you meet. For starters, pick out how you want to start the conversation. Then, prepare the specific examples of when you believe your manager has acted inappropriately or failed to meet your expectations, depending on the feedback you’re offering. The most effective feedback cites concrete examples that support your point.
Also, think about jotting down your examples in preparation to bring them up when you explain your issue. Writing out what you want to say will also help you clarify your principal concerns, allow you to detail how you’ve been affected, and prevent you from leaving anything important out.
3. Choose a time wisely
Timing and tact are everything when approaching such a potentially prickly matter. Ideally, you want to provide feedback to your boss as soon as possible. So, think about organizing a one-on-one or a check-in session while the content is still fresh and you’re in an ideal place to thrash out a solution. In general, the sooner you provide feedback, the better. Leaving an issue to simmer until your annual performance review, for example, runs the risk of letting it boil over. That said, that’s what performance reviews are for. So, by all means, also use that time to provide feedback that’ll help develop your boss’s performance.
4. Mind your tone
Once you’ve prepared what you want to say and set up a time to meet, you’re ready to give your feedback to your boss. While giving your feedback, be mindful of your tone. Again, approaching a delicate situation is a big step that can leave you feeling vulnerable and increase the chance you’ll get emotional. To ensure you'll be heard, remember to breathe, stay calm, and keep it professional. Make sure to avoid assigning blame or coming across like you’re venting thoughts and emotions. Instead, this is the time and place to have a constructive two-way conversation about your specific concern.
Once you’ve given your feedback, allow your boss time to sit with it. Let your message sink in, and don’t be afraid of uncomfortable silence. Give your manager space to reflect, respond, or even blow off steam if you’ve hit a nerve. If you elicit defensiveness or anger, be mindful of how you plan to defuse it.
5. Be constructive and solutions-oriented
After you’ve given your two cents’ worth, it’s time to come up with a solution together. Hopefully, you’ve thought about solutions ahead of time and brought these ideas to your meeting. It shows resourcefulness and how you're proactive about achieving positive change.
That said, each situation is different. And some managers may be more amenable to quick fixes than those that might be more involved and difficult. Regardless, by being helpful and solutions-oriented, you're sending the message that you're a team player. After all, by helping your boss up their game, you’re holding up your end to contribute positively to the company culture as a whole.
Finally, keep in mind that, no matter the reaction that your boss has, if they take the time to listen to your concerns, make sure to show your gratitude for their time and for listening—after all, growing gratitude in the workplace boosts employee well-being and strengthen bonds among team members.
Alister Esam is the CEO and Founder of Process Bliss, a workflow management software that is reinventing how businesses execute day to day tasks. He is an expert in strategic planning, business process management, and business process optimization. With more than 15 years of experience in helping businesses run at peak efficiency, Alister has dedicated his career to make work easier, and more motivating for managers and employees alike. Here is his LinkedIn.
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