In years gone by, telling your boss that they aren’t very good at their job might have been seen as something of a career faux pas. After all, who would willingly accept an invitation to character-assassinate the person responsible for their next promotion, right?
In most modern workplace cultures, however, constructive feedback is now viewed as a good thing – both up and down. Yet, while openness is encouraged in the large majority of organisations, that doesn’t stop employees from worrying when it comes to critiquing their manager; it can still represent a possible minefield with the potential to carry serious career consequences.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Positive criticism is essential to improvement in the workplace, so you should be able to provide genuine and honest feedback without compromising your own career prospects. Here are seven helpful tips on how to approach things with professionalism and finesse, and let your boss know how you feel…
1. Make Sure It’s Solicited
It’s definitely not a good idea to make yourself comfy in your manager’s office (or, worse, at a team meeting in front of everybody) and start reeling off a list of things you dislike about their management style – even if everything you’re saying is completely true and justified. Aside from being unprofessional and disrespectful, it’s also unlikely to have an impact.
Instead, you should wait to be asked. Every good boss requests feedback from their team about their leadership style and their general performance, which is the perfect platform on which to get your points across. Having requested your input, they will be far more open to taking those points on board and acting upon them, resulting in a win for everybody.
Of course, not every manager falls into this category. Sometimes, you may need to be slightly more proactive – and certainly a lot more tactful. For example, if your team is taking on a new project, you could ask if it would be useful to provide feedback at certain points in the project. Putting your suggestion into context might make it a more palatable prospect and, subsequently, a more productive one.
2. Don’t Become the Boss Yourself
When your boss asks you for feedback, they want to hear things from your point of view. For instance, how as a subordinate did a recent decision that they take impact your work? Are there simple day-to-day improvements that could be made to ease the burden on you? Or have you noticed something on the office floor that you feel they may have overlooked? These are ground-up observations that give your boss something to consider and act upon.
What they’re not asking is for you to enter into an overblown monologue about how you would do things if you were in their shoes. All this does is undermine your boss’s authority and demonstrates that you are presuming to know everything about the demands and responsibilities placed upon them. It’s highly likely that you don’t, so don’t pretend to. Focus only on what affects you, and let your boss do the rest.
3. Keep It Private
As previously mentioned, the worst thing you could do is make your opinions known to your boss in front of a group of people; the goal is to create a positive dialogue, after all – not completely humiliate them in front of the entire team.
Such an approach will not benefit your boss and it most certainly won’t benefit your chances of having a productive relationship with them; instead, save your feedback for a more private setting.
If what you have to say is pressing and can’t wait until the next review period, the same principle still applies. For example, if you’re in a meeting and you feel that your boss has used a bullying and mocking tone to knock down one of your colleague’s ideas, see them in private and explain that you don’t think their behaviour was professional or called for. If you call them out on the spot, they will see it as an attempt to undermine their credibility rather than focus on the real issue of why their behaviour was wrong.
4. Be Prepared
If you’re going to go and sit in a confined room and tell your boss where you feel they could be doing better, it goes without saying that you need to be prepared. A large part of this involves writing things down and having some form of evidence to back up your claims.
For instance, if there is a certain policy that you’ve noticed is having a detrimental effect on output, then write down actual examples of how; they will illustrate your point and clearly highlight where any changes need to be made. Your enthusiasm and diligence to improve things will also earmark you as an ambitious and committed worker.
It will also allow you to focus on key points and not get side-tracked; the last thing you want is to improvise and leave yourself tongue-tied if your boss pushes back. Ultimately, though, being prepared is a clear sign that you have taken the process seriously and invested time into helping develop your boss’s leadership skills – and that will work in everyone’s favour.
5. Keep Things Professional
Nobody enjoys listening to criticism but it’s far easier to take when delivered with diplomacy and sensitivity. If you approach things with a negative attitude and see feedback sessions as an opportunity to simply unload or vent your frustrations, then it’s unlikely that your points will be coherent or effective, and they certainly won’t be received well.
The key is to be professional and respectful at all times. Emphasise that you’re not interested in attacking your manager as a person but rather that you’re focused on aspects of their style and performance that you feel could be changed in order to benefit the wider team. This highlights that any criticism is purely professional and should be taken as such.
At the end of the session, make sure you thank them for their time, too – just as you would when you yourself are receiving feedback.
6. Do It in Person
This might not always be physically possible, especially if you work remotely. But if you can, you should always endeavour to deliver your feedback face to face.
This is mainly because things can be taken out of context in emails or letters, with the potential for the tone of your words to be misconstrued. Also, if you’re going to deliver criticism to someone, it’s always better to do it in person. Your body language and your manner can help to communicate your points far more effectively, while you also can’t be accused of hiding behind a screen if you’ve got something particularly controversial to say.
7. Clarify Their Motive
This might seem like a bit of an afterthought, but it can save you some potential embarrassment. If you’re asked to provide feedback, always attempt to clarify what exactly they are seeking feedback on.
For example, they may only be interested in your thoughts about how they managed you on that last project, whereas you may have spent the weekend compiling a dozen bullet points on their tardiness at meetings or the way they always steal your milk. What you’re saying might be true, but it refers back to point one – if they didn’t ask for your thoughts on those things, then it might be counterproductive.
Make sure you know exactly what your boss is referring to when they ask for feedback; doing so will also allow you to deliver a more effective and helpful assessment.
Essentially, this is just a sample of ways in which you can make the feedback process easier on yourself; the biggest variable is undoubtedly your boss and their own individual attitude when it comes to handling constructive praise and criticism. Unfortunately, some managers will take things on board in the spirit they were intended, whereas others won’t – all you can do is follow these guidelines and stick to what you were asked.
Have you had to give feedback to your boss recently? Let us know how they took it in the comments section below!