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How to Give Your Boss Feedback Without Sounding Like a Jerk

We joined forces with Gusto to build a practical feedback guide for small businesses. Read the rest of the series here and learn how to give non-jerky feedback to your coworker, boss, and client.

It can be extremely intimidating to give feedback to your boss. You want to provide input so that they can improve, but the power dynamics can make an already delicate action seem loaded with potential pitfalls.

Plus, there are so many stories of feedback gone wrong.

A current Lattice employee, Helen, ran into this issue at a previous job when she worked as a flight attendant at a major airline. During a training session with other flight attendants, where their head instructor and manager was talking about the strict policies they needed to follow.

Airlines have notoriously convoluted yet strict guidelines, policies, and processes. During class, Helen’s manager told Helen and her fellow flight attendant trainees about one of these particularly ill-constructed policies. Helen was so nonplussed by it that she raised her hand, questioned the reasoning of the policy, and laughed a bit at its’ ridiculousness. She felt as though her coworkers would obviously agree with her point of view.

Unfortunately, this did not sit well with the instructor, who referred the employee to the instructor’s boss — who then dressed her down for her constant questioning of policies.

If stories like this make you cringe, you’re not alone. But it’s worth noting that the problem here isn’t necessarily that Helen questioned her instructor or the policy, it’s that she did so in public. In this venue,  the instructor was unsurprisingly disinclined to discuss the subject with her; even worse, the way the Lattice employee went about asking her question offended the instructor.

 

1. Why feedback

2. When & how to give feedback

3. Feedback Tips

4. Scripts

Why feedback

In Helen’s case, treating the situation a little more delicately and bringing up her concerns in a more private manner would have made a world of difference. In hindsight, Helen thinks that the instructor would’ve felt more comfortable if she’d had reached out to them after the training session and spoken to them one on one.

So, before giving feedback, take a moment to evaluate what you want to say, how best to say it, and how receptive your boss will be to it. If your feedback is coming from a frustration with something, can you pinpoint why you feel that way?

Also, be aware of how best to give feedback to your boss, both regarding how they as an individual might take it, and what, if any, methods your organization has in place for you to do so.

When & how to give feedback

Remember that tact is key when giving feedback. The time and place are vital; firstly, because you don’t want to experience what Helen went through, and secondly, because context and tone can be misread in many of the ways we communicate.

Giving your feedback in person is ideal, but if that’s simply not possible, call them on the phone rather than emailing or messaging them via IM or Slack.

Places where it’s not okay to give feedback to your boss:

Places where it is okay to give feedback to your boss:

Feedback Tips

Finally, your feedback should adhere to some simple rules to ensure that it really lands.

Scripts

There are a number of topics about which you may need to give your boss feedback. Some of the most popular include: your workload, (mis)communication, project management, and managing expectations.

1. Your workload.Your workload can be difficult to manage, and burnout is real. It can be scary to realize you’re overwhelmed, or on the verge of being so. But in the end, it’s better for you, your boss, and your company to be honest about your limits. Coming to the discussion with your boss with some solutions or adjustments will make you feel prepared and help your boss realize how much thought you’ve put into the situation.

Try these scripts and solutions:

2. Miscommunication. It may be obvious that communication is key, but it’s one of the biggest things that falls through the cracks. Get the full story, ask them for more information or context, and don’t make assumptions about their motivations. Here are a couple ways to gain more clarity:

3. Project Management. There’s nothing quite as terrifying as having a big project and feeling lost. Thankfully asking for help with project management can be simple:

4. Managing Expectations. Make sure your thoughts for a specific project are in line with what your boss is thinking. Here are some examples for managing expectations and making sure you’re on the same page:

Giving your boss feedback can be stressful, but it’s beneficial to you both. They’ll become better at their job, and you’ll be able to better address your needs as their direct report. If you keep all this in mind, you can avoid coming off like a jerk.