Feedback is a common feature of most organizations. It helps to ensure that everybody is on the same page and problems can be addressed effectively. However, most employees are more familiar with receiving feedback than giving it.
Yet, as an employee, one way you can ensure you have a positive working experience is by contributing to the conversation. This may be from the perspective of providing insights into what you feel the company could do better. It might also involve more direct feedback about issues your boss should address. This can be challenging and intimidating, but your insights are invaluable.
So, we’re going to look at how to give feedback to your boss. What should you consider and how can you best represent your perspectives?
Consider the Method
It’s important to remember that there are different methods of giving feedback to your boss. Not all methods are suitable for every type of circumstance or all reasons for providing feedback. As such, you should consider carefully what approaches best match the needs of both you and your boss.
Some of the common methods of giving feedback include:
Email is often considered the quickest and simplest way to give feedback. Indeed, for many of us, it’s also a more comfortable approach to expressing difficult criticisms. After all, it spares you the initial awkwardness of a direct confrontation. Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that email is not often suitable for feedback on personal or even complicated matters. It’s difficult to get tone across in text form and intentions can easily be misread. As such, email should be reserved for low stakes feedback or official communications that you wish to record formally.
One of the most valuable tools companies can provide staff is anonymous feedback channels. These might take the form of messaging services or regular employee experience surveys. Such methods are most suitable when it comes to providing feedback to your boss about elements that impact the organization as whole. For instance, it can be your concerns about issues with the company culture or lack of inclusion efforts. This approach can also be useful for highlighting problems you feel affect your personal engagement with the company. Anonymous feedback channels may also be helpful if you have concerns about retaliation for your comments.
Giving feedback on a one-to-one basis tends to be the most useful approach, at least in the first instance. Taking the time to privately meet with your boss to raise your concerns or give praise can help you both to feel more comfortable with the process. Particularly when you have problems to raise, your boss may also recognize this as you treating them with consideration and respect. However, it is wise to follow up such meetings with an email confirming your points and agreed actions.
There is a tendency in many cases to be blunt in giving feedback to a boss. This can come from a range of influences. Most often, it’s because the boss is seen as the senior face of the company and therefore appropriate to take the brunt of complaints. While transparency and honesty are important, it’s also vital to remember that your boss is a human being. Your approach, even when dealing with frustrating issues, needs to be tempered by a sense of empathy.
When you’re raising personality or management style issues, be mindful that there could be many factors contributing to their approach. Even their leadership decisions and behaviors can be influenced by different pressures, priorities, and challenges coming from many sources. Before you give feedback, consider what else might be impacting the circumstances and how they might be feeling about the situation. During your meeting to discuss the matter, take the opportunity to genuinely listen to what they have to say about the problems you’re raising and respond to each of these points calmly.
Being empathetic when giving feedback to your boss isn’t about being a pushover or about allowing them to avoid essential management accountability. Rather, it’s about recognizing that there may be complex factors involved and it helps everyone involved if you can navigate the matter mindfully. There may come a time later when you need to be more blunt. However, your empathy helps to maintain a stronger professional relationship with your boss. It’s also a clear demonstration of your own soft leadership skills.
A common issue that hampers giving effective feedback to your boss is ambiguity. Unless everyone has a clear sense of exactly what an issue is, nobody can make effective steps in the right direction. Even when giving positive feedback, clarity helps your boss to understand what they need to do more of. Indeed, being ambiguous isn’t fair to the person you’re giving feedback to, as it prevents them from having a genuine opportunity to adjust their approach. So, be as specific as you possibly can.
Before you give feedback, spend some time identifying the key points you want to raise in your discussion. Bullet pointing these ensures clarity for the recipient and also helps you ensure you hit your main points during face-to-face discussions. Keep your descriptions of circumstances, errors, or problems short and to the point. If you’re giving feedback related to incidents in the workplace, provide dates and times wherever possible.
In some circumstances, bringing supporting documents to the meeting can be appropriate. However, it’s often best to approach this from the perspective of providing key examples, rather than submitting a damning body of evidence. It is often most helpful for everyone involved if you seek to use your documentation primarily to better illustrate your points. That said, utilizing documents as evidence certainly has its place, but this depends on the reasons for the feedback.
Giving feedback to your boss is not just an opportunity to discuss what you find positive about them or to air grievances. Rather, the most important impetus for feedback is to create positive change in an organization. You want the good things to spread across the company. Similarly, you want to make meaningful shifts in the elements that are disruptive or damaging. As such, a key aspect of giving feedback to your boss is inviting progress.
Don’t just head into meetings with a list of criticisms or praise. Consider how you think change can be implemented in the organization in light of your concerns. You don’t need to have all the solutions, but offering some thoughts and ideas can make for a more practical and positive experience for everyone.
Ask your boss how they think the issues can be addressed or improved. Offer to work with them where appropriate in the change process. Whether or not you’re going to be involved in the solutions, talk about what the next steps are likely to be. Agree on how they’ll keep you informed of the outcomes and potentially meet again on the subject in the near future. This bolsters management accountability and shows a willingness to positively impact the company.
Giving feedback to your boss can be challenging, not to mention a little daunting at times. Start by choosing the most appropriate format for your situation. Wherever possible, taking an empathetic approach keeps the process mutually positive and respectful. Be specific about your concerns and ensure there is a forward plan of action. Remember that your voice and your perspectives are invaluable to your company, so have the confidence to give feedback that ensures positive changes for everyone involved.