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How to Give Constructive Feedback to Your Boss: Do’s and Don’ts

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I was once concluding a quarterly performance review with my boss, when they asked, “do you have any feedback for me?” It was the first time a boss had ever asked me for feedback on their performance and leadership style. I didn’t say anything of value at that moment but from that day on, I knew if the time came and I did want to provide constructive feedback, I could do so.

Now, since then, I have worked with other leaders and listened to my peers discuss their own bosses, so I know there is a very real spectrum of leaders out there. Some are receptive to feedback and encourage it, and then there are others who are not quite ready for feedback to be a two-way street.

In any case, feedback is a longstanding practice in the workplace because when done right, it can make us and our work better. While 82% of employees appreciate both positive and negative feedback, 65% of employees are left wanting more. Now, constructive feedback does not always have to be about something that was done wrong; it can also positively reinforce something your boss has started or been doing that you appreciate and would like to see continue. So, if you are looking to provide your boss with constructive feedback, here are some do’s and don’ts of how to do so:

 

The Don’ts of Giving Your Boss Constructive Feedback

Don't Butter Them Up

If you are going to approach your boss to provide constructive feedback, then you shouldn’t feel the need to sing their praises, race through the feedback, and end by singing their praises again. There is a difference between buttering your boss up and being respectful. If you have established a strong working relationship built on trust and mutual respect, you should be able to almost get right to the point.

 

Don't Use Hearsay

Office gossip or water cooler talk are not a good enough basis for constructive feedback. Rather, you want to have a few facts or specific examples prepared to reference. The key here is a few examples. You don’t need a page full of examples to read off; a few strong occurrences or incidents should suffice.

 

Don't Speak for Others

While your feedback may reflect similar thoughts or feelings of your colleagues, you should never claim to speak for them. This may look like “so-and-so agrees,” or “we have all noticed this.” If you are going to provide your boss with constructive feedback, it should only reflect an experience you have had first-hand and can reference.

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The Do’s of Giving Your Boss Constructive Feedback

Pick Your Timing Wisely

To make sure your carefully crafted constructive feedback lands as you practiced in your head, pick your timing wisely. For example, if your boss is scheduled to be at a high-pressure executive meeting or is scheduled to go on holidays, plan to speak with them either a few days before or after these types of events. Whether intentional or not, bosses are people too and may be stressed or nervous, leading them to be less receptive or capable of giving you their undivided attention.

Rather, pick a time to approach them that is seemingly free. This way you are more likely to catch them at a time where they are more receptive to what you have to say. For example, my boss is an early morning person, so if I wanted to give them constructive feedback, I would check their calendar to ensure I wouldn’t bump up against any meetings and plan to come in to see them before anyone else arrived.

 

Be Honest But Tactful

Depending on the nature of your relationship with your boss, there may be some nerves providing leadership “up” as we traditionally think of feedback as a one-way street, from leader to employee. Regardless of your relationship though, you can respect their position by articulating your feedback in an authentic, honest manner, while still being tactful, sensitive, and appropriate.

 

Offer Solutions, Alternatives, and Support

While not all leaders will want to hear your solution or alternative or accept your support, you should be prepared when giving constructive feedback to offer it if it is asked for. Regardless if your boss wants your suggestions or not, give them some time after your meeting to process your thoughts and ideas, and the check in after a week or so, possibly during your one-on-one meeting.

 

Choose Your Moments

If you have been waiting months or years to provide your boss with some constructive feedback, it can be tempting to want to give them more. But like any of us, too much feedback can start to feel more like criticism or complaining. So, as tempting as it might be once you see positive change as a result of your feedback to give more, just take the time to think if it is absolutely necessary.

 

Conclusion: Don’t Be Afraid to Give Your Boss Constructive Feedback

Giving your boss feedback can initially seem intimidating, even taboo, as it so often is a one-way street. Though if you follow these do’s and don’ts, you should be able to navigate the situation. Providing feedback is also a learnable skill, so if you want to fast-track your abilities, there are training programs and even one to one coaches that can help you hone your skills.

Of course, some company cultures are more feedback-rich than others. Just as some bosses are more receptive to feedback from their employees than others. Therefore, if you feel uncomfortable providing your boss with constructive feedback but feel it is necessary for the health and success of not only yourself but the team and even the organization, tap into your human resources team for support.

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