7 Ways to Give Negative Feedback to the Boss
Some bosses think their weaknesses matter less than the weaknesses of others. But, the opposite is true.
You help the team and enrich your organization, when you help the boss.
7 ways to give negative feedback to the boss:
#1. Positive relationship before negative feedback.
- Show respect. Another person’s weakness is not permission for disrespect.
- List three things you can do this week that say you have their best interest at heart.
- Make life easier for your boss.
- Affirming the boss’s strengths? Beware of coming off as a kiss up. Explain how their strengths help you and others deliver results.
Don’t give negative feedback to the boss, unless you already have a positive relationship.
#2. Work on yourself first and most. Proactively evaluate your performance with your boss. “I’ve been thinking about the last project and wanted to discuss some things that went well and some things I’d like to improve.”
Be open to feedback, if you want to give feedback.
Prepare for future projects. “I’d like exceptional results on our next project. Any suggestions?”
#3. Make performance conversations part of everyday conversations. Bring up performance in the car or hallway.
- I really enjoy…
- I’d like to get better at….
- What do you see me doing that really works?
- What behavior is holding me back?
Shift to their performance. What about you? What really works for you? What are you working to improve?
#4. Be kind and direct. Give examples. Explain impact. Talk about your observations, not other’s.
#5. Suggest alternatives. “It would help me if…” Focus on improvement, more than correction.
#6. Respond to push back humbly. An argument with the boss is a losing affair.
#7. Suggest 360 degree evaluations.
Care sincerely, otherwise, don’t bring it up.
Which suggestion seems most important to you?
What suggestions can you add for giving negative feedback to the boss?
**Thanks to Facebook friends who have been sharing their thoughts about this with me. You’ve been very helpful.
This is a risky post…worked with many ‘bosses’ (not all mine) who likely wouldn’t respond well to my assessment of their performance. I’d suggest doing a vulnerability assessment of the boss…is she/he open to such conversations, even with an existing positive relationship? Are there other behaviors demonstrated by the boss that are evidence of her/his openness to improvement?
While I embrace continuous improvement for me…I’m not sure it’s a popular topic around many leaders. Dan’s advice to talk first of our own improvement needs is sound…and then to flow into the boss’ behavior through our own needs.
Knowing how vulnerable the boss is day to day, can help direct the conversation and chart your course.
Thanks Brian. You’re right. This is risky. I’ve asked people if they have given negative feedback to a boss. Most just laugh. So much of this boils down to organizational culture and, as you indicate, the bosses willingness to be vulnerable. Glad you shared your insights.
Upward feedback is risky, but I’ve also learned that if a boss can’t/won’t take feedback I don’t want to work for him/her.
If anything this post reminds me to stay humble
Thanks Joseph. There’s not much hope for real improvement if we can’t hear feedback. Sometimes the more it stings the more useful it is.
Great comment! so true:)
Thanks Dan. A very delicate subject… something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, both for my leadership team and myself. Can you or anyone else recommend some good 360′ evaluations / questions on a website somewhere?
I really want to try my hardest in this space, in the best interests of my organisation, however I am very doubtful of ever getting to the day where I feel 100% of our staff are being upfront and honest and sharing their concerns/issues, barriers.. which could be both, staff lacking the courage to speak up and leadership not being approachable.
Is 100% an unrealistic target?
I just know in my heart that if everyone was upfront and honest (as they are in their own teams) toward the leadership team and we were receptive and listened and not reactive we would go from good to great and stay there!
Thanks Troy. You bring both sides of the issue to the front, first the willingness/courage to give honest feedback and second the willingness/courage to receive feedback.
When it’s upward feedback the way it’s received is most important. Perhaps some public recognition for those who speak up and those who respond well. … that too could be touchy.
You make me feel the importance and challenge of this topic. Thanks.
In regard to questions for 360’s. I’ll ask over on the Leadership Facebook page. Who knows?
Ohio State published the LBDQ or something like that years ago. Leadership Behavior Description Questionnaire…or something to the like. All staff fill out the questionnaire first for their IDEAL leader…then again for their current leader… leaders can then assess the comparison.I’ve done it…while it’s old, it was still valuable…
Thanks Brian. I did a search and came up with this paper: http://fisher.osu.edu/research/lbdq. Lots of stuff there.
Bosses are people, too. Some are persons first. Others are bosses first. The first tend to be more open to honest improvement and assessment conversations: about the employee, the boss, the organization. The second? Well, best of luck!
Thanks Painting. My experience indicates we could all use a little more of the human first approach.
I was the receiver of negative feedback just yesterday and while my initial thought as my employee was talking was, “friend, you have no idea…”, I throttled that and listened, and promised that I would follow up. I let him know today that I appreciated his comment and provided some additional explanation. As I think about our conversations with your profile in mind, he has a good relationship with me, he really cares, he was humble in acknowledging one of my points, he complemented several of our leaders including me about related improvements. So I can say, as a receiver of upward feedback, your points test out well.
Thanks Richard and congratulations!
One factor in useful feedback is the openness of leaders and organizations with information. Sometimes feedback is off base because the people giving it are in the dark.
If nothing else, the practice of humility is one useful result of receiving negative feedback gracefully.
I’ve never had my own internal team to lead, but I’ve had the “pleasure” of sharing concerns with previous boss’ behaviors / policies that I felt held me or the team back from accomplishing at a higher level. It was met with various reactions, but what I’ve learned across the board is that we don’t always know the big picture or all the details at the team level which may be part of the problem we are seeing. When I’ve been successful with sharing negative feedback upward, I’ve prefaced the conversation with my realization that I am likely not fully aware of everything they’re dealing with. Then I tried to frame the rest of the discussion around my desire to understand so that I was better equipped to handle certain issues that were holding me (or the team) back. Taking this approach has worked very well because the managers / leadership didn’t feel I was just attacking them or complaining, but trying to understand them and their challenges to help the team succeed at a higher level.
Thanks Rian. Thanks for sharing your story, experience, and insights. So helpful.
I think another important thing to consider here is pick your battles. It is important to know your boss and how they will react to some degree. Knowing yourself is also very important. But determining if the negative feedback is worth the risk and effort can save you from confronting a situation that might not be that important.
Let’s be real here. Some bosses are smart enough to play their game. They are nice to you when they know that you will not easily vow to them and if they know that they cannot be the bossy boss. “Don’t give negative feedback to the boss, unless you already have a positive relationship.” – How will you do this if you have an ass*** boss? Are you suggesting to play the politics game? Office politics is not for everyone because some people are there to work. Believe me, some boss are not aware that they have integrity issue and not being fair – its just part of their blood.