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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

2 Ways to Give Your Boss Honest Feedback That Aren’t Scary

You may be used to receiving regular feedback from your boss. Maybe you meet once a week or once a month, or perhaps your boss sends you thoughtful and constructive emails every so often. You know where you excel, what needs work, and what your long-term goals are. And that’s all great!

But what about your feedback? Do you feel empowered to communicate to your supervisor what’s going super well for you and what’s not? Do you wish you could gently bring up his tendency to instruct you to prioritize one thing one day before turning around the next and telling you to forget about it and do something else instead?

If your work flow or productivity levels are suffering as a result of communication issues or your boss’ disorganization, there’s a way to offer feedback that will enable you both to do your jobs better in the long run. Of course, this conversation isn’t only about offering thoughts on what’s not working; it’s also very much about relaying what you like and what you value about the work of another—even your boss! Sometimes it’s neither negative nor positive but a suggestion for improvement.

Below, two ways to make this happen so it won’t come back to haunt you.

1. Provide Concrete Examples

Muse Career Coach Allison Tatios recommends zeroing in on specifics. If your boss calls a meeting and genuinely wants to hear about what he could be doing better, be prepared with concrete examples to back up what you’re saying. Tatios explains why responding vaguely is frowned upon: “It can sometimes come across as criticism.”

This is especially true if it’s not your boss, but your boss’ boss, who’s asking you for feedback on your immediate supervisor. Blurt out something vague and non-committal sounding, and it might just seem as if you’re complaining for no reason—or searching for something negative to say because you think it’s expected of you. Instead of falling into that habit, offer real suggestions for a workplace issue. If you have an idea on how something could be better executed—for example, the weekly meeting with freelance consultants doesn’t feel productive because there’s no agenda—speak up. Tatios says that you’re likely to be “perceived as helpful,” as most solution-oriented feedback tends to be.

2. Build Trust With Your Words

While it’ll no doubt be easier for you to express any negative feedback you may have to the person your boss reports to and not your manager himself, sometimes, it’s going to be necessary to get real with your boss, face-to-face. If your supervisor genuinely wants to know how things are going and how he could specifically do this or that better, and you sit across from him and respond by gushing about how he’s “the best boss you ever had,” “you wouldn’t change a thing,” “everything is just. So. Perfect,” you might have difficulty establishing a trustworthy relationship.

And the idea, says Tatios, is to build trust with your boss. If you’re over-the-top on the praise front and refuse to mention even one, tiny thing you’d change, you might be perceived as lacking a critical eye or creative savvy. The thing is, you don’t even really need to present negative feedback to get someone’s attention or show you’re a proactive employee. Proposing to re-do the onboarding materials so they’re up-to-date and not based on the company’s origins some 10 or 15 years ago is a great suggestion for improving upon an existing item. It’s feedback, sure, but it’s some of the best kind.

Most bosses (at least I hope) aren’t looking for just yes-men and women. They want people who have a voice, so find something to say, or risk being perceived as a workplace wallflower. There’s a way to give feedback—negative, positive, neutral—without losing sleep or fearing you drank the company Kool-Aid.

Photo of employee talking to his boss courtesy of Shutterstock.