Giving anything less than positive feedback to anyone at all can be intimidating. Giving feedback to a boss is another story entirely; naturally it feels risky. Nobody wants to jeopardise their position or damage working relationships – if they can help it.
However, there are times when it becomes necessary to give feedback to your boss. Perhaps your boss has requested it, in which case there’s no getting out of it. It might be that your situation has become so uncomfortable that you’ll want to leave unless change happens.
Regardless of the reason for your constructive feedback, how you deliver that feedback is everything. The below feedback methods will bring about the best possible outcome:
Consider the reasons for the feedback
Are you feeding back for your own reasons, or has your boss asked for this feedback? Dependent on the circumstances, the conversation may happen quite differently. If your boss has asked for feedback, there is probably a specific reason for that. Perhaps your boss wants to know how all employees feel about their management of a certain project.
In this case, it’s not a good time to impart all of your concerns about their timekeeping or moods. If those things are a real issue for you, a separate meeting at a later date may be required. Find out the reasons for the feedback request and ask for specific areas to feedback on. Then address those areas carefully using the methods coming up below.
If the feedback is something you’re giving for personal reasons, remember that your boss isn’t going to be expecting this. Unless they have the skin of a rhino, the chances are your feedback could put them on the back foot. The main difference is that when your boss asks for feedback, they’re expecting something specific; they may also be better prepared to receive your opinions.
Consider the validity of what you’re saying
This requires self-honesty. Do you have a genuinely good reason for giving your boss this feedback? If you dig deep and find that truthfully, it’s a personality clash and you just have quite different ways of approaching situations, it might not be worth saying anything.
Your feedback may come across as a character assassination, which won’t do wonders for your working relationship, whatever state it is currently in. However, if you feel that your boss is making poor decisions to the detriment of your project or company, you probably have a duty to discuss it.
It’s important to remember that your boss is in this role because of their skills, experience and qualifications. Although they may be doing things differently than you would, they got the job. It helps to keep this in mind, as it’s quite possible that they know things you don’t. If you don’t have the full picture, you may be joining the dots incorrectly.
Stick to what’s most important
If you have decided that your reasons for feedback are worthy, it’s time to decide on which things you’re going to talk about. You may have a list of ten different things that you don’t like about your boss’ behaviour or approach. Know that bringing too many issues to the table at once is a bad idea.
Landing a large number of issues on somebody in one hit is probably going to wind them. You may find that they stop listening after the first three points, rejecting the most important points because they feel you’ve come at them with a laundry list of errors they’ve made.
Boil your issues down to the most crucial points. What is causing the most discomfort or disharmony for you or your team? Which things have had the most negative impact on your role or project? Avoid anything that may come across as ‘niggly’ or petty. Prioritising carefully is crucial to the success of your conversation.
Prepare for your meeting
Once you’ve decided on the most crucial points you want to discuss, write them down in a bulleted list of points you want to make. Improvising is a bad idea; your emotions might start to drive the conversation, or you might forget crucial points if your boss distracts you with their responses.
It’s easy to feel that you know exactly what you want to say, but when challenged or faced with an emotional response, you may be caught off guard. Make sure your notes only include what you decided was most important and don’t deviate from that.
At the top of your notes, prepare a little positive feedback to start with. Nobody enjoys being criticized, so it always helps to let your boss know what you appreciate about them before you go into the issues. This way they will be more receptive to what they can do better.
Stick to the facts
It’s imperative to offer observations, facts, and examples. Dumping your feelings and opinions on someone without rational explanation behind them won’t garner much understanding – it will feel like a rant.
Let’s imagine your boss somehow undermined you with a client you were making good progress with. Your client was about to sign a deal, and pulled out after your boss’ input. Prepare the evidence that your client was ready to sign, and any communications that demonstrate the reasons for their change of heart.
You may be upset about this, with reason, but telling your boss that they “always undermine you”, “never consider your efforts”, etc. is not going to get you far. Inquiring rather than accusing makes a world of difference. You may genuinely feel upset, but your boss needs to see what it is they’ve actually done to cause it.
Be positive, respectful and compassionate
Let your boss know that you appreciate the opportunity to discuss your thoughts. When you deliver your perspective in a considerate way, your boss won’t feel defensive. If you come across as caring for not only your own role and wellbeing, but also that of your boss and the company as a whole, they’ll be more receptive.
When you deliver one of your points and back it up with evidence, give them a chance to respond. Listen to what they have to say and show understanding for their perspective. Remember that your boss is your boss for a reason, and it won’t help to undermine their authority.
Keep in mind that your boss wasn’t going out of their way to upset you – they were probably unaware of the effect they were having. It could be that your boss was having personal issues that impacted their performance or decision-making.
Lastly, allow for some processing time. Your boss may come back to you later with deeper understanding. People need time to process criticism; it’s often hard to take and needs some consideration before they can see it from your point of view. Be open to (and encourage) reciprocation, as there may be some constructive feedback you could benefit from too.
Daniel Ross is part of the marketing team at Roubler.com.au — a scheduling and payroll software platform founded in Australia. Their mission is to change the way the world manages its workforces.