We all know that feedback is an important part of work and life. We spend a lot of time teaching leaders ‘how to give feedback’ and employees how to ‘ask for and respond to it’. Feedback mostly occurs mostly at this level – a boss providing and their direct report receiving. At a stretch, feedback may also happen at a peer to peer level.
What is missing is feedback the other way – from direct report to boss. But why is this missing?
Direct reports know their bosses well. Their style, their behaviour, their performance, their impact. Logically, this is a great basis to provide great feedback from. However, power distance and fears of repercussions, damaging relationships or overstepping the mark, stop employees providing their bosses with their valuable insights.
But let’s put these fears in context. Most leaders are human, decent (even lovely) people. Most want to get better and have great relationships with and respect for their teams. Operating from this baseline, it is reasonable that most leaders would welcome feedback, provided it is done thoughtfully and kindly. And given the positive impact of providing this feedback, there is a lot of potential upside for employees.
While not a complex task, providing your boss feedback requires some simple pre-thought, preparation, and practice. But no need to be afraid! Here are my top ten tips to giving your boss feedback and ensure your relationship stays intact.
(1) Be clear on why you want to provide feedback
Is it because your performance/work experience is suffering? Is there something that could help them? Are you angry at them? Do you not like them?
It is important to be honest and clear on why you want to provide feedback. If it’s to help a situation get better, then this is a great basis to start from. However, if the feedback is meant to be punitive, or to gain power, think again before providing it.
(2) Know your boss
Are they open to feedback? Are they hierarchical? Do you have a good relationship? Do they trust you? Do they like face to face discussions, or would they prefer to receive an email, have some time to reflect, and then have a discussion?
Think about how your boss operates, and what kind of approach would get the best response out of them (remembering feedback is about them, not you).
(3) Speak for yourself
If you are going to provide feedback to your boss, make sure it is yours to give, from your experience and your perspective.
Don’t be the ‘elected’ (or even self-appointed) team ‘spokesperson’ that provides feedback. While you may think there is safety in numbers, what you are basically doing is telling your boss that the whole team has a problem with him/her, have openly (and almost every time, extensively) talked about it, and have ‘hatched a plan” to bring it up. This will leave your boss feeling attacked, disliked, with no choice but to defend themselves and walk away not trusting the team.
(4) Focus on facts and impact
Get away from the emotion and focus on facts and impact. For example- “when you ask for short notice reports, I have to work back late to meet the timelines. Can we work together to get more notice of these reports?”. Provide objective examples. This will help you establish a shared understanding of the issue and help you come to great solutions together.
(5) Get the logistics right
This is not a corridor conversation, nor one to schedule on a day of back meetings or looming deadlines. Book a meeting room. Allow a decent amount of time to have a great discussion and reach an outcome. Factor in ‘down time’ between this discussion and the next meeting (for both yourself and your boss). Plan what you both may need to get the discussion right.
Prepare in advance. Know what you want to say. Don’t expect your boss to lead the discussion, rather have a plan for how you will guide this. There are heaps of great models for giving feedback. My favourite is FIT. You can get more information about this here
(7) Practice, practice, practice
This is not something you do off the cuff. Practice. A lot. In the mirror. In front of the dog. With a friend/partner. Not with your team mates as this can create an ‘everyone is talking about it’ situation. Practice your tone. Your language. Your content. Anticipate questions, responses and objectives, and think about what you might want to say.
(8) Ask permission
Before offering your boss feedback, ask their permission to provide this. This can be a super simple comment like “would you mind if I provided some feedback that could really help me do my job better/help us meet this deadline/avoid this challenge in the future’.
Most bosses will say yes, and because they are not caught off guard, they will be in a good space to hear what you have to say. If they say no, leave it and move on. Don’t insist upon providing it. If your boss won’t even agree to hear the feedback, it is super unlikely they would take it well. Consider this to be a bullet dodged!
(9) Understand there will be a response
Great conversations are two sided. Expect and encourage your boss to respond, ask questions and challenge. Be prepared that your boss may not accept or action the feedback. Understand there may be more context than you may be aware of. Remember, you cannot control the reaction of your boss or their point of view.
(10) Be kind, fair and generous
This is the most important tip. If you approach your feedback from a mindset of genuinely trying to help your boss, being kind, being fair and understanding they are human, your good intentions will shine through and make this experience safer for both of you.
And that’s it. Ten simple tips that will help you give great feedback to your boss every time. With so much potential upside to gain, maybe it’s time for all of us to be brave, and really deeply invest in great relationships with our boss, even if this is sometimes a little tricky.
If you enjoyed this article read Sonja’s other top ten list The Ten Things You Should Know About The People On Your Team.