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February 6, 2020

Giving Feedback to Managers - Your Top Tips

Lucy Bishop


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©© GettyImages/MangoStar_Studio

We all know the value of feedback in the workplace. It can help you to improve your performance, to reassure you that you are on the right track, and to stop you from making serious errors. But can you give feedback to managers?

This is the kind of feedback we're all used to getting from our bosses at some point. But, flip it around. What if your boss was the one who needed feedback? What if they were about to make a big mistake and you knew... would you tell them?  

I would – but that's because I work somewhere where bosses encourage upwards feedback. But, there have definitely been times in my career – in other jobs with other, less agreeable managers – where I would have just kept quiet. Mainly for fear that I'd be shouted at, ignored or – worse – sacked. 

Keeping Quiet Doesn't Work

The thing is, keeping quiet doesn't work! If something's bothering you at work and you can't talk to your boss about it... it's simply not going to get fixed. So the likelihood is that you'll become unhappy, your performance may suffer, you may even end up quitting. 

I've certainly been down this route myself. I once had a job where I was really unhappy. The boss seemed uninterested and barely spoke to me. I was given very little guidance and often had very little work to do.

The worst thing was that the work was secretarial – filing, making teas and taking minutes -- rather than the interesting editorial jobs I was promised would be part of the job. 

Instead of raising these concerns though, I stayed quiet. My unhappiness grew. I went home to my partner at the end of the day and moaned about my job. He told me to bring it up with my boss. But I couldn't. I just didn't have the confidence.

Giving Feedback to Managers - Before Your Exit Interview

So I found a new job and handed in my notice! It wasn't until the exit interview that I "came clean."

My boss seemed disappointed, and surprised. He said he was pleased with my work and wanted to understand more about why I wanted to go. I told him that I felt under-challenged by the work I had been given, and that there was a lack of communication that made it difficult to talk about things openly.

I could see that he was shocked. He clearly thought everything had been going fine. But, he thanked me for my feedback. And we parted ways.  

Perhaps if I'd had the confidence to give feedback earlier, things would have changed and I would have given the job more of a chance. But, giving feedback – particularly to a boss – is a skill that needs developing, and sometimes that only comes with time and experience.  

Your Top Tips for Giving Feedback to Managers 

We wanted to know how you approached giving feedback to managers, and it seems not all of you struggled with confidence like me.

According to a recent poll we ran on Twitter, 66.7 percent of you said you would feel confident giving your boss feedback. Similarly, on Facebook, 62.3 percent of you were happy to give feedback to managers. 

Some of you delved deep and came up with some great tips on how to give feedback to managers:

Don't Get Personal 

Several people pointed out the importance of staying professional when giving feedback. 

As Facebook friend, Raghav Kandakur explained, "It's about being inclusive, professional, and accepting of equality among team members, without holding any grudges. One more important thing is starting every day with a fresh mindset without carrying any past baggage."

LinkedIn follower Jotham C. agreed, "Avoid favoritism, [keep your] office politics-free."

Leading positive psychologist Margaret H. Greenberg, who's written extensively on the subject of positive psychology and leadership, also joined the conversation on LinkedIn by warning against the spread of negative emotions in the workplace.

She commented, "Germs and colds aren't the only things we spread in the workplace. Our emotions, both positive and negative, are just as contagious and can either boost or bust productivity. Research has also found that a boss's emotions are even more contagious than employees'."

Mind Tools' Club and corporate users can listen to our exclusive interview with Margeret Greenberg regarding positive psychology and leadership here.

Bosses Need to Listen and Be Empathic 

Many of you suggested that bosses need to be open and understanding when they receive feedback from team members. LinkedIn follower, Konesh. A explained, "Listen... Listen. Be empathic." Similarly, Shaba Shams commented, "Encourage empathy." 

Not all of you, however, agreed. Over on Facebook a brouhaha was brewing between two of our followers. Oedhel Setran kicked off the debate by warning against giving people too much empathy. 

He said, "Being understanding doesn't mean you have to be enabling. Stop accepting excuses from employees who aren't pulling their own weight. Too often managers err on the side of understanding than the side of standards. They believe it will instill loyalty, but all it's doing is upsetting the workhorses who are left picking up the slack."

Fellow Facebook friend, Greg Schmierer, however, pointed out that this may cause managers to miss out on opportunities to help team members who are struggling.

As he explained, "... sometimes there are extenuating circumstances in the employee's personal life that are causing him to act a certain way at work. First, the manager needs to give the employee the benefit of the doubt about the employee's behavior, unless the employee is showing violent tendencies.

"The manager needs to be a problem solver. He can't know what each of his employees [is] thinking. The manager's role is to get the best performance from his team for his company. This means getting to the root cause of an employee's behavior. Once found, they need to work together in a positive environment to help the employee overcome his problems."

Oedhel, however, thought this approach could be seen as "hand-holding" and that, instead, team members should be able to "self-correct."

Sticking to his guns, Greg highlighted that often people aren't able to "... self-correct because they don't know how." Instead, he explained that, "It takes a manager with good listening skills and empathy in order to find out what's going on." Though he conceded that, "If the employee can't be corrected, then it would be time to think about letting the employee go." 

Be Open and Transparent 

Openness and transparency were popular terms that many of you echoed when it came to giving feedback to managers. As LinkedIn follower Moayad Daboor clarified, "... be credible and honest."

Similarly, Illidia Alexandre de Sousa commented, "... know that your boss has your interests in consideration, as well as always being the most transparent as possible when giving feedback, in order to truly help you improve." 

Twitter follower, Pam Kennett, also highlighted being open about your skills and where you need help, "I would share my strengths and weaknesses with them, and agree a plan as to how to best manage me."

Do you have any tips on how to give feedback to managers? If so, join the debate and share your thoughts in the Comments section, below. 

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18 comments on “Giving Feedback to Managers - Your Top Tips”

  1. Managing up is very tricky in government, or my more recent experience with a city Council. This concept of 360 feedback is a foreign concept, therefore ended in my resignation. I suppose we need to choose our battles, and instinctively know when there is a receptive other or not, and decide one’s actions from there.

    1. Sorry to hear that the situation ended with you resigning. Indeed choosing our battles and choosing whether we want to stay in certain environments is a choice which takes considerable reflection to decide on what is more important to us.

  2. In my experience the worst bosses are those who have both an ego, so one can't tell them anything, and a lack of self confidence, so even when told they don't listen because they feel that by listening to an underling they would be undermined.

    1. Some managers might not be open to feedback, but some of them might. It's important to get to know the person well enough so that you know whether you should go there or not. Also, it's important to choose the right moment. 🙂

  3. If you have a supervisor who is involved in office socialization that seems to be too much during office hours, how would you relay this to the supervisor? I mean, it seems that the socialization gets out of hand and becomes distracting. Some of the other team members seem to be following the supervisor's lead in that they too are talking to each other across the office instead of going to each other's desk or waiting until they are on break. How would I speak to the supervisor about this when he/she is also involved in it?

    1. That is a tough call when the supervisor is the person doing the socializing. I personally would focus on the effect this has on me and how it is impacting on my ability to focus and work, rather than make any broad generalizations about the impact on others. How might you handle?

  4. This article does not address the topic well. The only suggestions actually aimed at the subordinate is to stay professional and avoid getting personal. The remainder of the information is about the attitude the boss should have. Clearly not the scope of the article. Even Lucy Bishop says she resigned rather than providing feedback. My feedback to Lucy and editorial team is this article should be deleted as rubbish.

    1. Hi row

      The aim of the blog post was to highlight how difficult it can be to give feedback to managers, and to help spark some debate around the subject. It forms part of our #MTtips blog series, in which we flag an often tricky subject on social media - in this case giving feedback to managers - and ask our social media followers to provide their own tips and experiences relating to the subject. Hopefully, however, we can put our findings into a proper article in the future that will provide some more concrete advice on how to give feedback to managers.

  5. The worst bosses will impact the team, lack confidence, killing the creativity and not motivating the team.
    the boss is too logical will less empathy, a creative idea cannot be born in an environment limited by logic

    1. The boss does indeed impact on whether individuals feel that their feedback will be welcome or taken on board. Performance, motivation, creativity and open communication may all be negatively impacted by the tone the boss sets.

  6. Feedback to manager is kind of require a courage and confidence of a subordinate, however, for a subordinate who succinctly desire to want to get-out of the box or want to climb a lader or who desire a recommendation would taught it well to give feedback as a necessity.

    1. It does indeed take courage to speak up and provide feedback to your manager. If done in a professional manner, sticking to the facts such as behaviors rather than making it personal such as their attitude, then it is more likely to be listened to.

  7. When your supervisor's manager is a vacant position who do you turn to? One may think upper management, but no, they refer you back to your supervisor. When presenting my concerns lead to a flood of "stay in your lane" responses, what do you do? Leaving is not an option because I am bound by a contractual agreement for another year!

    1. Sorry to hear that you are getting the response to mind your own business. What other avenues are open for you, such as the Human Resources / Personnel department? Additionally, how might you deliver the feedback differently to your supervisor so that it can be heard?

  8. It's very healthy to keep lines of communication open and flowing in both directions, so that employees can discuss their concerns and problems. But i know some Managers who brush all employees concerns aside because they feel their status do not provide for the raising of concerns.

    1. Hi Archright - Yes, this can be so demotivating, even enraging, for team members! Often, the person "on the front line" knows more about a situation than their manager, so it's wise to listen to them.
      To ignore or over-rule an employee routinely can be a form of self-sabotage by the manager. Mind Tools Club members and Corporate users can read more about this in our article
      Charlie Swift, Senior Editor

  9. The funny thing is, it is my business. There was an office assistant clearly trying to sabotage my productivity. I reported this and asked why does the assistant need to work unsupervised? That is when I was told not to worry about what other employees were doing. Human Resources are included in the upper management contact who would refer me back to the supervisor. Before I asked about the other employee, I would ask the supervisor what seemed like weekly, had she taken anything from my office, did she know of any updates that may have blocked the centrally located computer leaving access to one person. She is aware of the mischief, but the other person has a strong personality and the supervisor does not. Since I have a contractual agreement, I am the easier target.

    1. Thanks for sharing more about your situation. It can be very difficult when a supervisor does not seem to have the courage to deal with an employee that may be causing problems. One thought is to document how your work, and your ability to work, is being impacted by sticking to the facts and not blaming anyone (unless you have clear proof). Then, add what action you would like your manager to take. It is effectively managing your manager yet this sometimes needs to be done. Whether you are on a contract or not, you should be able to do your job without hindrances. Good luck.

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