How to give feedback to your boss

Just like other employees, your boss needs feedback on his performance to effectively lead the company. Since you see your boss in a variety of settings, including negotiations, client meetings, one-on-one meetings, and presentations, you likely have good insight into his or her performance. However, you might wonder if it’s even your place to share this feedback, or you might worry that doing so could put your job at risk. There are steps that you can take to give your boss diplomatic and constructive feedback.

There are many feedback systems out there to help employees, coworkers, and bosses get the feedback they need to grow. One such system is 360 Degree Feedback. With this process, employees can send and receive anonymous and confidential feedback on those who work around them. Around eight to 12 people will fill out an anonymous online form that asks questions covering workplace competencies. This system automatically puts the results in a format to help the recipient create a development plan he or she can grow from.

Another feedback method that some companies use is the 3×3 Method. With this method, you offer three areas that need development and three strengths. The idea is that limiting the number of strengths means your boss won’t feel like you’re trying to flatter his ego and keeping the areas for improvement at a low number means he’ll remember all of them. A similar technique is the Feedback Sandwich, where you mention a strength, discuss the area for improvement, and then finish with another strength.

A final method to consider is the Stop, Start, Continue technique. With this method you will tell your boss what you would like him to stop doing, what you would like him to start doing, and what you would like him to continue doing.

Even if your company doesn’t have a method or technique like these, there are ways you can correctly and thoughtfully give feedback to your boss and improve your working relationship.

Constructive criticism

Receiving feedback is an important way to help us meet our goals, and providing feedback to your boss should happen for the same reason. Some bosses understand the importance of feedback and will either ask for it or create a safe working environment where it’s encouraged. However, even if some bosses are open to feedback, they might not make that clear, so you don’t know where you stand.

Along the same lines, giving constructive feedback is also an art form. Constructive feedback will motivate and encourage instead of damaging relationships and discouraging work and change. If you’re looking for tips on how to give feedback to your boss, consider the following steps.

Decide if it’s worth it

The first step in giving feedback to your boss is deciding if the feedback is even worth giving. While society seems open to offering an opinion on different matters, sometimes that means people say things that are better left alone.

Telling your boss that you think she’s doing a process wrong in front of the team can ruin credibility and authority in an instant, especially if it turns out that she isn’t doing it wrong; she’s simply doing it differently than you would. While feedback is an important part of learning and growing, you should also take time to decide if the feedback is even worth sharing and what the ideal outcome of the discussion might be.

Ask before you offer

If you decide that your feedback is helpful but you’re not sure if your boss is open to receiving it, the best way to find out is to ask. Hopefully your boss says yes, and that will make this entire process easier. There are certain ways you can approach this question to make your boss more open to hearing your feedback.

One way is to ask if he would like feedback. You can say something like, “I believe I have a unique perspective on this project. Would you like me to offer feedback as we go?” or, “Would it help you if I gave you feedback at certain points during this project?”

Do it face to face

Giving your boss feedback is nerve-racking, and you might be tempted to offer it through instant messenger or email. While having a real conversation is awkward, it’s always best to give feedback face to face. When you send a message, you risk having a disastrous misunderstanding of tone, or the meaning may be misconstrued. Also, watch your body language during your meeting so you don’t convey the wrong feeling. Entering with a relaxed manner and a smile can help set the tone for the entire meeting.

Offer timely feedback

Ideally, you want to offer feedback as soon as you can. If you wait too long, details can get fuzzy and the recipient of the message may read too much into the incident if he or she thinks you’ve been dwelling on it for a while. Timing is important, so you don’t have to offer feedback on the spot, and you certainly don’t want to provide feedback when you have an audience. In fact, your boss will probably receive feedback better if you’re both prepared.

Give your boss an indication of what you’d like to discuss and ask him if you can schedule some time to talk. You can simply say, “I’d like to meet with you and offer some suggestions about yesterday’s meeting.”

Write it down

Giving your boss feedback is scary, and you’ll likely feel some nerves walking into your meeting. Don’t try to discuss the topic off the top of your head. Instead, take some time to collect your thoughts and write down what you want to talk about and any suggestions for improvement you have. Once you get to your meeting, stick with what you have on your notes. People tend to babble or go off script when they’re nervous, so make sure you don’t veer into other topics.

Additionally, never email your notes to someone else to look over. Stick with writing them down with pen and paper, and then destroy those notes when you’re done. You wouldn’t like it if your boss shared feedback she gave to you or your coworkers, so offer her the same respect and keep this conversation between the two of you.

Be specific and professional

To be sure your feedback is effective and well received, make it specific and professional. Even though we work with our bosses nearly every day, it’s easy to forget they’re human and likely won’t take well to blunt criticism. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like how you brief me on projects,” say, “When we sit down for project briefs, it would be more helpful if you gave me the desired outcomes and goals so I know what to work toward.”

Find out what type of feedback your boss wants

Sometimes your boss might ask you for feedback, but you need to make sure you know what type of feedback he’s looking for. Does he want specific feedback about one particular project, or is he looking for overall feedback about his performance? It’s always acceptable to ask exactly what he wants feedback on.

If your boss has set up a meeting for feedback, a quick email asking what the conversation will be about is fine. If your boss surprises you by stopping by your desk and asking for feedback, you can reply, “I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts. Could you go into more detail about what you’re hoping to learn?”

What to do if your boss gets defensive

Nobody likes to feel criticized, and no matter how carefully you’ve put together your feedback, your boss might get defensive or upset about what you’re sharing. If this happens, it’s important to stand your ground. If your boss asked you for feedback, you should remind her that you’re doing what was asked of you.

Also, consider reframing your feedback. Some communication experts note that one way to give feedback that’s more easily received is by framing it so that it shows the impact on something your boss cares about. For example, you can note how specific behaviors prevent your boss from reaching her goals.

While giving feedback to your boss is a daunting task, when done correctly it can help both of you grow and learn. If you find yourself in the position of needing to give your boss feedback, use these tips to make it a valuable experience.

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