It can be extremely nerve-wracking to give feedback to your manager or boss (also known as giving "upward feedback"). You want to provide input so that they can improve, but the power dynamics of your working relationship can make an already delicate action seem loaded with potential pitfalls.
Plus, there are so many stories of feedback gone wrong, it's hard to know how to even approach doing it the right way.
Let's take the example of Lattice employee Anne. Anne ran into this issue during a training session at a previous job where she worked as a flight attendant for a major airline. The head instructor and manager was talking to Anne and her fellow flight attendant trainees about the strict policies they needed to follow.
Airlines have notoriously convoluted yet strict guidelines, policies, and processes. During the session, Anne’s manager told the group about one of these particularly ill-constructed policies. Anne was so nonplussed by it that she raised her hand, questioned the reasoning of the policy, and laughed a bit at its’ ridiculousness, feeling as though her coworkers would obviously agree with her point of view.
Unfortunately, this did not sit well with the instructor, who referred Anne to their higher-up — 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 Anne 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 she went about asking her question offended the instructor.
In Anne’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, Anne believed that the instructor would have felt more comfortable if she’d had reached out to them after the training session and had a one on one feedback conversation, instead.
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 you have "negative feedback" or what you have to say is coming from 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.
Remember that tact is key when giving feedback. The time and place are vital; firstly, because you don’t want to experience what Anne 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:
Finally, the feedback you give should adhere to some simple rules to ensure that it really lands.
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.
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, before it becomes a serious problem. 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 for addressing your workload:
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.
Try these scripts for gaining clarity:
There’s nothing quite as terrifying as having a big project and feeling lost. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or not sure how to tackle structuring it, it’s time to seek out some advice.
Try these scripts to ask for help with project management:
You might have a super clear idea for a specific project — and it might be totally different from what your boss expects you to do. Make sure your thoughts and theirs are in line so you don’t end up with a nasty surprise.
Try these scripts for making sure you’re on the same page:
Giving your boss feedback can be stressful, but it’s providing them with valuable information, and 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.