How to give feedback to your boss: 4 ways to get started

April 1, 2022 - 16 min read

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Why should you give feedback to your boss?

Why is it important?

When should you give feedback to your boss?

4 ways to give feedback

How honest should you be?

4 final tips to effectively give feedback to your boss

Thrive with feedback

Many people think that in organizations, feedback comes from the top down. 

But really, anyone can benefit from hearing feedback, even your boss. It may sound like a difficult conversation, but it's important to know how to give feedback to your boss. 

You might be nervous about doing so because you could get a negative reaction. Your mind jumps to a worst-case scenario, like getting fired. That fear is normal and understandable. With a little care, your worst-case fears are also probably unfounded.

Giving feedback — to your boss or anyone else — seems scary until you learn how to share your point of view and give constructive feedback in a respectful and honest way. 

But we can't let that discourage us. Everyone should strive to be a team member that isn't afraid to give constructive feedback to their boss. Ultimately, it's only to help make your workplace and employee experience better.

 

Why should you give feedback to your boss?

When an employee gives their boss feedback, it's called upward feedback. The term encompasses when someone with lower seniority and power within the company provides feedback to someone with a higher rank. It shouldn't be an uncommon term because it happens pretty frequently. 

If something goes wrong or there's a miscommunication, voices must be heard. Your boss may not know what it's like to do your work every day until they receive your feedback. If there's an aspect of your job that you could do more effectively with a bit of change, providing input would be helpful. 

Upward feedback includes common generalities, too. It doesn't always have to be a conversation with profound implications. Offering feedback seems stressful but is necessary for everyone’s growth. 

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Why is it important?

Giving feedback to your boss is more important than just giving them your two cents. Your constructive feedback won't only make your job better, but everyone else's, too.

When team members see that someone else has given upward feedback, they may feel more comfortable. It empowers them to use their voice because they see that their boss values the ideas and suggestions of their employees.

Rather than have a company culture fearful of giving feedback to its managers, it's better to have one that encourages it. Over time, your working relationship with your boss will become stronger. 

Managers are more engaged and aware of the needs of their employees if they listen to more feedback. Collecting feedback is just as important for managers as it is for their employees. It helps them with team performance levels and working more productively.

Maybe they assumed that things were running smoothly for everyone, but after a team meeting that included a feedback session, they realized something had to change. 

Find someone who will teach you to understand how important your voice and perspective are. With BetterUp, a coach will guide you to develop the communication skills you need to use your voice effectively and with confidence in the workplace.

When should you give feedback to your boss?

If you're already feeling hesitant about giving feedback to your manager, one of the first ways you can get through it is to perfect your timing. Sometimes it's appropriate to provide constructive feedback, but other times you need to wait for a better opportunity. 

But if you have a problem or concern that you want to address, this isn't to say you should never bring it up. You should pick a time that suits your boss too so that they can give their full attention to your constructive feedback.

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Here are three situations where it's good to give your boss feedback:

1. During a one-on-one chat

When you and your boss are focusing on each other and your professional relationship, you can probably bring up any concerns. If you're nervous about expressing your concerns, you can understand that it's just you and them having a conversation. Nobody else is listening in and weighing in on your feedback if they are private.

If they’re meeting with you one-on-one to ask you for feedback and check in on how you're working, it's a perfectly appropriate time.  

2. A quick chat before or after a meeting

Rather than interrupting the meeting, wait until your boss isn’t trying to give new instructions and information.

Ask if you can quickly follow up on something they said in the meeting and how it represents a concern that you have. These are also times when your boss is already thinking about work-related items. 

3. While you're doing a performance review

Performance reviews are a great opportunity to learn how to give feedback to your manager. 

Your manager will directly ask for your feedback on certain things in a performance review. Sometimes you're the subject of review, but discussing your relationship with your manager is an important part of your workflow. 

Your boss may have you fill out a form, send an email, or give it to them verbally. You can fill them out knowing that your boss wants to hear constructive feedback because they want to check in with their team members.

Sometimes, organizations will also offer the opportunity to provide feedback during an employee engagement survey as part of the performance review. 

4 ways to give feedback

You can give your boss feedback in a few different ways, depending on what the feedback is about. Some specific examples include your workload, their expectations for you, and project management.  

If you're at a loss for words and don't know how to frame your feedback, check out these four examples of how you can start your feedback conversation:

  1. "I want to know if I'm on the right track with this project. It's been confusing for me so far, so can we discuss [x] in more detail?"
  2. "I'm having trouble keeping up with my tasks for the week. Can we discuss my workload and how best to manage it?"
  3. "I'm not sure whom I can turn to for help with [x]. Is there anyone in particular that I should ask for advice?
  4. "I've been told to do [x] for this project, but last week I was doing [y]. Which way do you prefer me to approach this project?"

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Here are four tips to keep in mind while giving feedback to your boss. 

1. Work on your delivery 

Some people start with positive feedback. Recognizing your manager’s strengths will help to balance the upcoming constructive feedback. However, it is important to note that this strategy will depend on your feedback style.

Whichever tactic you choose, steer clear of linking your positive and constructive feedback with “but," “although,” or “however” as this can make your compliment sound insincere.

To make sure your feedback doesn’t come off as a personal attack, base your feedback on observations and facts, rather than judgments. Also, include specific examples.

A good way to be sure you’re not making it personal is by using verbs instead of adjectives. “Sometimes you interrupt others and forget to leave space for different opinions” instead of “You are sometimes bossy and controlling in team meetings.”

2. Ask for their response 

There are always two sides to a story. After giving feedback, give the recipient a chance to respond.  

This transitions your discussion into a conversation rather than a one-sided review and enables you to confirm they’ve understood your feedback. It’s only at this point when you understand both sides of the situation that you can come up with an effective solution together.

3. Ask for feedback in return 

Once you’ve given feedback, ask for feedback in return. This step demonstrates that you’re open to constructive advice and value their opinion. 

Ask specific questions about your performance to show you want to hear from them and are not just asking as a formality. For more advice see our guides on receiving positive and constructive feedback.

4. Put yourself in their shoes 

If you’re still unsure how they’ll take your feedback, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine the situation is reversed. How would you react if your colleague gave you the same feedback?

Would you be angry or grateful that someone pointed this out? Keep in mind differences in personality. It might be more difficult for some people to overcome a fixed mindset than others, but if you can honestly say you would not be offended receiving your feedback, it's a good sign you’ve planned your delivery well.

How honest should you be?

When you're providing feedback, you want to be as honest as possible. Lying or not giving honest feedback won't give your boss accurate information to create change. Plus, lying to your boss won’t help your working relationship. 

Constructive criticism allows you to be honest and frames your feedback in a way that wants to help whatever issue you're facing. Rather than disrespectfully criticizing your boss and their business, think of your feedback as helping to resolve issues in your workplace. 

Negative feedback is inevitable, but offering constructive criticism for your boss will frame this crucial information gently. Offering concrete examples can help you deliver your manager feedback politely.

If you have serious problems to address that have hurt your well-being or other aspects of your job, you don't have to feel obligated only to include positive feedback. Issues won't get resolved unless your boss knows the truth. 

Your organization likely has someone who works in human resources, too, who can help facilitate this conversation. As always, it’s a good idea to lean on your coach or mentor for insight on how to best handle the situation. 

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4 final tips to effectively give feedback to your boss

It's time to prepare yourself for the moment you give your boss some feedback. To ease your anxiety, here are a few things you can keep in mind that can help make your feedback process a successful one. 

Review these four final tips and think about how you can incorporate them into your work:

  1. Watch the tone of your voice and make sure you speak confidently but not aggressively.
  2. Say it to them in person so there's less room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  3. Give feedback on one thing at a time so you're not overwhelming your boss.
  4. Approach the conversation with a solutions-oriented and team player attitude.

Thrive with feedback

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No matter how long you've known your boss, giving them feedback can be stressful. 

If you've avoided opportunities to provide feedback in the past, you were likely uncomfortable, self-conscious, and unsure about how to approach these situations.

But now that you know that feedback is an important part of being a team member, you can understand that you should feel empowered knowing how to give feedback to your boss. 

Your workplace will thank you for it, too. You'll be a team member that wants to address problems and be more effective at your job.

Over time and with practice, you'll gain the confidence to speak up and you'll no longer shudder at the thought of providing feedback to anyone. 

When you're learning to give proper feedback, it's essential to recognize that it's a skill that will help you for many years to come. With BetterUp, you'll develop sustainable strategies that will support your growth. 

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Published April 1, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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