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Critically appraising the person who manages you is never easy. But thoughtful, honest feedback is something many bosses value.
What should I consider?
If the feedback is unsolicited, you should ask yourself what your motives are, says career coach Rebecca Alexander: “Are you getting back at them for something? You also need to ask if the feedback is useful and how receptive they will be.”
Jo Ellen Grzyb, of professional personal development advisers The Impact Factory, says: “It tends to be difficult if there is too much of a status gap between you. If you see your boss as powerful, you tend to project the role of parent on to them, meaning you act like a child. Remind yourself that what you have to say is valid.”
She adds: “It’s easier if you communicate with your boss regularly and feed back, including positive feedback, when you see it.”
Jon Lavelle, author of Water off a Duck’s Back: How to deal with frustrating situations, awkward, embarrassing and manipulative people – and keep smiling!, advocates preparation, so the feedback doesn’t come out of the blue. “Say ‘There is something we need to talk about. Do you have some time when we can sit down?’” He recommends writing your feedback down first, in order to formulate your thoughts.
How do I deliver it?
It has to be in person: email can lead to horrible misunderstandings. Mr Lavelle suggests you use a simple structure to compose what to say, such as: “This is the situation; this is what is happening; this is how it makes me feel; this is what we should do; and this is how it will help us both.”
Ms Alexander adds: “Build on things they’re already doing well. Rather than saying ‘Morale has been terrible for the past six months’, say, ‘I noticed how well the team responded when you spoke to them six months ago. Morale has fallen recently, doing that again could help.’”
She adds that you should be positioning yourself as an ally of your boss, who genuinely wants to help.
What doesn’t work?
“Avoid sweeping generalisations,” says Ms Alexander. “Specific comments in your field of knowledge are much more useful.”
Ms Grzyb says you should resist the urge to rant or moan: “Offer solutions and say what you want. You want to be seen as someone who gives good feedback rather than having your boss groan inwardly when you ask to talk to them.”
What if they disagree or ignore the feedback?
“They have the right to disagree,” says Ms Grzyb. “You should try to find a compromise. If it’s a bad disagreement, stand your ground and say ‘I can see we really disagree. What are we going to do about it?’”
If your feedback has been forgotten, there is nothing wrong with reminding the boss but it’s probably best done in a light-hearted way.
The writer is the author of ‘The Careerist: Over 100 ways to get ahead at work’
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