No matter how much you like your boss or supervisor, there are probably things about him or her that you would like to change. I hear from so many people that their boss does things that makes the working environment difficult, or impedes progress on a project, or makes people feel unmotivated. Giving your boss feedback (known as upward feedback) can be a delicate process, but if offered correctly and thoughtfully, your insight can benefit your boss and improve your working relationship. Here are a few tips and areas to consider to help you do it diplomatically.
Think about the culture of your organization
Reflect on the culture of your organization. Is there a set of values that guide decision-making and behavior? Is constructive feedback something that is supported in the company? In our book Time To Get Real!, Alex Plinio and I discuss the value of a positive corporate culture. “The organizations that we work for create a day-to-day reality for us that flows in the direction we are headed or causes us to have to swim upstream. We believe we are being treated fairly and are recognized for our contributions, or we are being taken advantage of and seem to be just a cog in the machine.” Before speaking with your boss, think about the culture, your contribution to it, and your boss’ contribution. This can give you guidance on how to proceed. You can also refer to a specific value of the organization that your boss may not be adequately supporting.
Reflect on your relationship with your boss
A critical factor in deciding to give your boss feedback or not is your relationship with him or her. Similar to any form of feedback, the ability to give and receive upward feedback is dependent on a relationship that includes trust because without trust, the feedback will be difficult for your boss to receive. Before giving feedback, you need to assess whether your boss will be open to what you have to say. If you know that your boss is unreceptive to feedback or you have an unstable relationship and your boss is likely to have a negative reaction, it is better not to say anything. It is not worth risking your working relationship with your boss or your job. However, if you feel your boss’s behavior is putting the company or your division at risk, you may have no choice. If this is the case, also consider turning to human resources for their guidance and support.
Prepare carefully for the meeting
Schedule the meeting with your boss in advance and let him or her know that you want to share some thoughts about a recent project or situation. Take the time to write down the feedback topic you have in mind (stick to one topic at this time and see how it goes – no need to dog pile) and be as specific as possible about your concerns including what happened and who was involved. By writing your thoughts down on paper (not in an email or on your computer), you can stay on topic, be specific, and not verbally wander or talk in circles. Be clear, concise, and most important, use polite and professional language. During the conversation, don’t start finger pointing. Focus on how his or her behavior impacts you. Use “I” statements like, “I would benefit from your support when I (add specific situation).” Or “I would value greater autonomy in (add specific situation).” Include positive feedback as well, again, being specific and sincere. Remember to shred the paper with your notes after the meeting to ensure the confidentiality of the conversation.
Sharing constructive feedback benefits everyone. If you are a boss, keep this in mind. When you give your boss feedback, you may not get the response you want as rapidly as you want it, but you just might get your boss thinking more deeply about your conversation and hopefully, you’ll start a dialogue that enhances trust and promotes improvement.
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