Most professionals think of feedback as a top-down process, meaning that higher-ranking people should give feedback to lower-ranking people.
In fact, many managers consider this a primary function of their job. But it’s important to know that feedback can—and should—also go the other direction as well.
You undoubtedly have important opinions that would help your manager improve. Yet, the idea of sharing them can be uncomfortable, to say the least. The best managers will ask for your feedback, but many others don’t ever consider the idea.
Many organizations recognize the need for this kind of all-around feedback, and also the difficulty associated with it. That’s why the “360-degree assessment” originally came into existence. These surveys (typically anonymous) allow employees to provide feedback both up and down the chain of command. Leaders at all levels can gauge their performance based on the perspectives of people who work for them, with them, and above them.
However, absent such a tool, delivering feedback to a superior can be a daunting task. Consider the following points before you attempt it.
Ask for Permission
If you want to make sure the feedback is heard, start by asking if it’s okay to share your perspectives on a situation. You can use a simple question like, “Would you like to hear my thoughts?” Or you can say something like this: “I wanted to share some things I experienced in the meeting yesterday. Do you have time to discuss it?”
Usually, though not always, a decent manager will accept the invitation. At the very least, most will suggest scheduling time to talk if it’s not ideal timing at that moment.
Be Factual, Not Emotional
Most people respond more positively to facts than emotion. If your manager’s behavior has frustrated or angered you, wait until the emotion has subsided. At that point, define the specific actions and the problems the situation caused for your work. Remember that everyone wants to know “what’s in it for me.” When you perform at your very best, your manager reaps the rewards. So, the more you can focus on the work, the more receptive he or she is likely to be.
Be Prescriptive, Not Just Descriptive
Instead of just describing the problem, offer the solution as well. For example, suppose your manager has just criticized you in front of a group of subordinates. You want to provide feedback so it doesn’t happen again. You might say something like this, “Next time, when you have some criticism to offer, I’d appreciate having a conversation in private. That way, my team doesn’t get caught in the middle.”
You might not always be able to identify the right solution, but if you need to set boundaries or ask for something specific, do so clearly.
In some cases, you might share a suggestion like this: “I noticed the team got antsy during that full day meeting. Maybe next time we should consider splitting it into two half-days.” This provides useful feedback (i.e. people don’t like full day meetings) in a way that is non-confrontational and solution-oriented.
Remain Polite, Professional and Respectful
Above all else, remember that how you communicate a message is just as important as the words you are saying. People can quickly tune out when they feel disrespected. The hierarchy of the workplace can add a layer of resistance for managers.
The best kind of feedback is offered in a way that feels comfortable and useful. If your manager sees you have approached them with a polite, professional and respectful manner, they will be open to hearing you out. And if they understand the value of what’s being shared, they’ll be more likely to take it to heart.
Remember too that you can offer both positive and constructive feedback. The general rule is praise in public and criticize in private. Telling your manager when he or she has done something extraordinarily supportive helps inspire them to continue the behavior. Likewise, acknowledging things they could do to improve helps create a stronger, more collaborative team.