How To Share Negative Feedback With Your Boss

We all experience times when we are not especially happy with aspects of our current position but have no desire to leave. To make things better, you will likely have to share difficult feedback with your boss in a way that won’t label you as a complainer, but rather help her see issues that need to be addressed, processes improved or barriers removed. Done well, this type of conversation will help you feel more empowered while positioning you as a strategic thinker committed to ongoing improvement.
The trick to sharing feedback up the ladder is to first look at things from your boss’s perspective. When you begin by figuring out how your needs intersect with hers and those of the organization, you can develop specific strategies for improvement and show how you anticipate your contribution increasing as a result.
Say what you mean
Communication and conversation experts insist it’s possible to share even very difficult feedback when you do it in the right way. Author of The Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations and Solve Conflicts at Work, and prior WFF Leadership Conference speaker, Debra Fine, says there are proven strategies for just this circumstance.
“It may not be an easy conversation, but done with intention and with a view that looks beyond your own self-interest, it is definitely possible to share difficult feedback with your boss and have it lead to improvements for you, the team and the organization,” Fine says. “Prepare several key points well ahead and even practice your conversation opener so you can present as composed and self-assured when the opportunity presents itself,” she adds. 
Lay the groundwork for real conversation
Whether you feel department procedures are not working effectively, your boss’s lack of feedback is causing missed deadlines, her micromanaging is thwarting your performance or even that she said something offensive, when you share feedback in the context of creating improvements together, you can create meaningful conversation that strengthens results. When you’re ready for that big talk, here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Choose the right time and setting. Difficult conversations should never be rushed or undertaken when emotions are high. Wait until any tension has passed, you’ve had time to prepare and when your boss has the time and bandwidth to focus on your request. Schedule the meeting ahead of time and give your boss a heads-up that you have a few issues to discuss and ideas to improve your performance. No one wants to be blindsided by unexpected criticism.
  • Be concise. One of the great benefits of preparing your points in advance is that you can fine tune them. Develop a direct, short statement to launch your conversation and then have a few bullet points to address key items. By keeping your messages short, you will help ensure the conversation stays on track and does not veer into random complaints that will distract from what you really want to achieve.
  • Have a specific ask. The last thing you want to do is lay a bunch of complaints at your boss’s feet without a clear plan for how to remedy them. Be flexible and listen to your boss’s reactions and thoughts, but make sure you have a specific request you would like her to consider. Perhaps you map out several areas of responsibility that you can carry out without prior approval. Or you might suggest a new program you would like to spearhead to reach a potential customer segment you feel is being overlooked. Remember, you asked for this time and her attention because there is something specific you want.
  • Highlight the positive. This conversation should reinforce to your boss how committed you are to the team, to her and to the organization. Deliver your feedback with a positive tone, non-defensive body language and positive feedback about how much you enjoy your job overall or specific aspects of it.  Don’t focus on criticizing your boss, but rather on processes and procedures that can be made more effective.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Make clear that you are not looking for your boss rescue you and share ideas of how you will measure your own progress against any new goals. Listen to her responses with an open mind. You need to allow for the fact that she may see the situation and your role in it differently from you. With a cooperative and collaborative tone set at the beginning, this should be a two-way conversation where you are open to feedback and ideas as well.
  • Offer thanks. When your boss shares her time and interest in your input, it makes sense to show your appreciation. As the conversation concludes and you’re reiterating your next steps, thank her for her time, guidance and advice.
Nothing changes overnight, but your feedback can be an important part of moving things in the right direction. Sharing it in a professional manner will also spotlight your ability to trouble shoot and develop effective solutions, and your willingness to proactively tackle critical issues.

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