When I ask this question in Zoomly’s training workshops, several souls usually respond with:
“You obviously haven’t met my boss!”
or simply “Nooooo!”
We then have to work on what’s stopping people giving their manager feedback, how to get past those self-imposed obstacles – and what to do instead. Here are three concerns I hear most often.
“I’m worried I’d get too emotional”
In which case you’re probably female; I’ve met very few guys who’d stew over this – they’d just do it (or not) then move on. Us females can tie ourselves in knots agonising over all the dire possibilities. You’re a man? Well, this applies to you too. The emotion you need here is courage, whether the feedback you’re about to give is positive or corrective. As well as a warm heart, you also need a cool head to ensure you get to the point and stick to the facts. So work out what you’re going to say, imagine how you would feel on the receiving ending of that and edit if necessary. Then give your feedback the ‘impartial observer test’ (would they agree or disagree with your feedback?). You’re giving feedback on a colleague’s behaviour at work – not a eulogy for a lost love – so acknowledge your emotions to yourself, then step up.
“I’m not sure how they’d react”
Well there’s one way to find out! Seriously, the surest way to is to prepare well then plunge in. Let’s say the feedback you want to give your boss is positive, maybe about how they handled a difficult client in a meeting. You might say, “I learned a lot watching you handle Elizabeth’s objections one by one. You didn’t just leap in but first asked her questions to check each point. She seemed to be more open to suggestions.” Could a boss really object to that?
What if the feedback is corrective? My tip is to first seek the go-ahead to give it, for example, “Is it OK to give you some feedback?” Wait for the OK, even if it’s “Ooh! Should I be worried?!” Then you can proceed, for example “Whenever I made a point in that meeting, you interrupted me, and then others picked up my point. What are your thoughts on that?” Notice how brief this is, how it pinpoints the behaviour and its impact, then asks the recipient to respond. Don’t get into a rant – give your recipient the mic and let them respond.
“Feedback is against the workplace culture here.”
OK, fair enough. If you’ve found yourself working in a brutal, just-shut-up-and-do-it, ‘you’re lucky you’ve got a job’, Masters of the Universe kind of culture, this just might be the instance when it’s unwise to leap in with feedback up the reporting the line. But first, let’s pause and ask: has anyone ever got fired for giving their manager feedback? And if they did – even if it was passed off as ‘disrespect’ or ‘insubordination’ or the old chestnut ‘poor cultural fit’ – then it may be wise to keep your own counsel. Does this mean you have to put up with a really bad boss? No – you have some choices. Stay and suffer in silence (you won’t be the first to make this choice). Or stick around and resolve to learn everything you possibly can – and simultaneously seek another job. Or look around and notice how others handle the situation, weighing up if their approach could work for you. Or ask for a transfer – to broaden your skills, of course.