7 Tips for Getting the Boss to Welcome Feedback

Have you ever offered your boss feedback?

OK, let me rephrase that. Have you ever offered your boss feedback and lived to tell the tale?

It’s not easy to talk to a boss about why you believe she bombed with a client or how she could improve her communication style.  It could be that you get the message loud and clear that the boss doesn’t want your opinion, or it could be that you’re afraid offering feedback could jeopardize your own job.

But if done correctly, offering feedback to the boss can not only help her meet her goals, but also help your own career as you become seen as a trusted voice.

Still, it’s sort of a high-wire act, because taking one wrong step can plunge you into the abyss.

If you want to give the boss feedback, here are some things to consider:

  1. Gauge the relationship. If your boss makes a third world dictator look like a pussycat, it’s probably best to zip it and not try and offer any feedback. If, however, the boss is known to keep an open mind and listens to others, then you can offer some opinions.
  2. Establish trust. Just as you’re more likely to welcome feedback from someone you trust, the same is true for your boss. Have you shown yourself as someone who is honest, has integrity and has the boss’s back? If not, don’t expect the boss to welcome your advice with open arms. It might be a better strategy to wait until you’ve done something especially valuable for the boss – he or she might be more open to hearing from you.
  3. Ask first. Don’t just jump in with feedback if the boss hasn’t made it know that it is welcome. You may want to ask, “I’d like to help you when I can, and if you’d like me to give you feedback on something, I’d be happy to offer it. If you want feedback, will you let me know?”
  4. Be diplomatic. Start with, “Can I offer you some feedback on something I observed in the process of the project?” If the boss seems welcoming, then follow with “I’m not sure if you’re aware that you gave the impression in that meeting that you’re not open to other opinions.”
  5. Stay focused on the goals. Your aim in giving feedback should be to offer the boss valuable information that may help her make better decisions or enable her to meet her goals. Say something like, “I know you mentioned that you want to build engagement, but I think several people took it badly when you talked about cutting the holiday picnic without offering an explanation.”
  6. Don’t be a know-it-all. When you’re offering feedback to the boss, make sure you never forget you’re doing it from a limited perspective. You have no way of knowing all the demands or issues involved in your boss’s life, so speak only about those subjects of which you have direct knowledge. It’s not your job to speculate about other issues and try to give the boss advice.
  7. Keep it private. Don’t offer your boss feedback in front of anyone else. Unless she formally requests it in a meeting or in a team setting, try to wait for a private time to discuss your ideas. It’s also a good idea never to mention other names – this advice comes from you.

Keep in mind that it may be much easier to offer criticism to the boss if you’ve also built up some positive goodwill. Don’t forget that a boss also often needs a pat on the back, so make sure you’re also offering positive feedback.

What tips do you have for giving feedback to the boss?

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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