Article by Teala Wilson
Feedback is key to skill development and performance improvement in any role. It’s how we know if we’re doing a good job and how we learn where we can improve.
But what do you do when your boss asks for feedback on how they’re doing? We’ve all been there before, and there’s no denying how difficult it is to really say what’s on your mind in that moment.
However, providing feedback to your boss can have good results – as long as you do it right. Here are seven tips that will help you feel more confident and plan what you want to say before having a feedback conversation with your boss.
1. Ask First
If you’re unsure whether your boss is open to candid feedback, ask. Feedback can result in learning, and everyone should be open to learning no matter their position. Hopefully, your boss will say “yes.” That will make piping up a little easier. If you get the feeling your manager isn’t wild about receiving upward feedback, look for anonymous ways to share your thoughts, such as a 360-feedback process.
2. Make Your Feedback Timely
Ideally, you want to give feedback as soon as you can and in an appropriate setting after something has happened. If you wait too long, details can grow fuzzy. If you can’t get together to talk soon after the situation, write down what happened in detail so that when you are able to meet, you can quickly recall events accurately.
3. Choose Your Delivery Method Carefully
Email or instant messenger might be tempting, but it’s best to talk face to face when giving feedback. It might be awkward and more difficult than typing up your suggestions and hitting “send,” but having a real conversation will ensure the message you want to deliver is the one received. Body language often says more than spoken words; if you go into the meeting with a smile and relaxed manner, you can start things off with the right tone. If you see your manager getting tense or rolling their eyes, you can adjust your tone and clarify your words so that the conversation stays meaningful.
4. Book It
It’s important to deliver timely feedback, but you don’t need to deliver it on the spot. In fact, feedback might be better received by your boss and better delivered by you if you are both prepared. Ask your boss if you can schedule a time to talk and give an indication of what you want to talk about. You can make it as simple as, “I’d like to offer up some suggestions related to yesterday’s meeting.” You wouldn’t want your manager to point out your faults to your colleagues, so give them the same respect.
5. Be Specific
For feedback to be effective and have an impact, it must be specific. For example: “When you brief me on a project, it would be more helpful to give me the goals and desired outcomes instead of a list of tasks you want me to complete. I can figure those things out on my own.” This is better than: “I don’t like how you give project briefs.” The latter version isn’t actionable and doesn’t give your manager insight into how to change or improve.
6. Don’t Wing It
It’s hard to tell your boss they could be doing a better job, so make it easier on yourself and plan what you want to say in advance. Write down what you want to talk about and how you feel the situation could be improved. During the meeting, stick to your planned message. Don’t go off script. Be diplomatic and professional. Afterward, anything that was discussed should stay between the two of you.
7. Ask Questions
If your boss approaches you for feedback, make sure you understand what they’re looking for. Do they want overall feedback on their performance, or do they want to know how you feel about a particular project? Don’t be afraid to ask what exactly your boss wants feedback on.
Before the time comes to deliver feedback, you can clarify what the conversation will be about by sending a quick note or having a short conversation about your meeting. This will make sure you and your boss are on the same page, and it should minimize any potential confusion.
Giving upward feedback that isn’t complimentary can be nerve-wracking. For some, the only thing worse than receiving candid feedback is delivering it. When giving upward feedback, you might fear coming off as a complainer or bringing tension to the team. But ask yourself: Is it better to say nothing?
Feedback – good and bad – is a part of life, and nobody should be surprised to hear they aren’t perfect. Feedback is the key driver of personal growth and performance improvement. By giving feedback, you’re providing your manager with an opportunity to be better. Most importantly, you’re living up to your end of the bargain when it comes to creating a healthy, successful manager-employee relationship.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Teala Wilson is a talent management consultant at Halogen Software. She supports HR professionals on a national and global level in areas such as performance management, recruitment, employee benefit programs, training and talent development, workforce planning, and internal communications. In her spare time, she enjoys visual arts and design.