Feedback is key to skill development and performance improvement in any role. It’s how we know if we’re doing a good job and how we learn where we can improve.
But what do you do when your boss asks for feedback on how they’re doing? We’ve all been there before and there’s no denying how difficult it is to really say what’s on your mind.
But the truth is, providing feedback to your boss can have good results.
Here are seven tips that will help you feel more confident and help you plan what you want to say before having a feedback conversation with your boss.
1. Ask first.
If you’re unsure if your boss is open to candid feedback, ask first. Feedback can result in learning, and everyone should be open to learning, no matter his or her position. Hopefully your boss will say yes, and that will make piping up a little easier. If you get the feeling your manager isn’t wild about receiving upward feedback, look for anonymous ways to share your thoughts, such as a 360-feedback process.
2. Make your feedback timely.
Ideally, you want to give feedback as soon as you can and in an appropriate setting after something has happened. After that, details can get fuzzy. If you can’t get together to talk soon after the situation, write down what happened—in detail—so that when you are able to meet, you can quickly recall events accurately.
3. Choose your delivery method carefully.
Although email or instant messenger is tempting, it’s best to talk face to face when giving feedback. It might be awkward and more difficult than just typing up your suggestions and hitting send, but having a real conversation will ensure the message you want to deliver is the one received. Body language often says more than spoken words; if you go into the meeting with a smile and relaxed manner, you can start things off with the right tone. And if you see your manager getting tense or rolling their eyes, you can adjust your tone and clarify your words so that the conversation stays meaningful.
4. Book it.
It’s important to deliver timely feedback, but it doesn’t need to be on the spot. In fact, it might be better received by your boss and better delivered by you if you are both prepared. Ask your boss if you can schedule a time to talk and give an indication of what you want to talk about. You can make it as simple as, “I’d like to offer up some suggestions related to yesterday’s meeting.” You wouldn’t want your manager to point out your faults to your colleagues, so give them the same respect.
5. Be specific.
For feedback to be effective and have an impact, make sure it’s specific. For example, “When you brief me on a project, it would be more helpful to give me the goals and desired outcomes instead of a list of tasks you want me to complete. I can figure those things out on my own,” is better than saying, “I don’t like how you give project briefs.” The second isn’t actionable and doesn’t give your manager insight on how to change or improve.
6. Don’t wing it.
It’s hard enough to tell your boss they could be doing a better job, so make it easier on yourself and plan what you want to say. Write down what you want to talk about and how you feel the situation could be improved, then keep it at that. Don’t go off script. Be diplomatic and professional. Afterward, anything that was discussed should stay between the two of you.
If your boss approaches you for feedback, make sure you understand what they’re looking for. Do they want overall feedback of their performance, or do they want to know how you felt about a particular project? Don’t be afraid to ask what exactly they want feedback on. Before the time comes to deliver feedback, you can clarify what the conversation will be about by sending a quick note or having a short conversation about your meeting. This will make sure you’re both on the same page and should minimize potential confusion.
Giving upward feedback that isn’t complimentary can be nerve-wracking. For some, the only thing worse than receiving candid feedback is delivering it. With upward feedback, employees might fear coming off as a complainer or bringing tension to the team. But ask yourself this: Is it better to say nothing?
Feedback—good and bad—is a part of life, and nobody should be surprised by hearing they aren’t perfect. It’s the key driver of personal growth and performance improvement, so by giving feedback, you’re providing your manager with an opportunity to be better. Most important, you’re living up to your end of the bargain when it comes to creating a healthy, successful manager-employee relationship.
Teala Wilson is a talent management consultant at Saba Software. She supports HR professionals on a national and global level in areas such as performance management, recruitment, employee benefit programs, training and talent development, workforce planning and internal communications. In her spare time, she enjoys visual arts and design.