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How to effectively give feedback to your boss

Providing feedback to the decision-makers in a way that allows you to be heard is a critical skill.

How to effectively give feedback to your boss
[Source image: Lpstudio/iStock]
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Lots of decisions that are made in the workplace have unintended consequences. Adopting a new software system may make some tasks harder to do than they were in the past. Selecting a new preferred vendor may make it harder to reach a sales associate. In each of these situations, it’s critical to be able to provide feedback to the decision-makers in a way that will allow you to be heard.

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Put yourself in their shoes

When something goes wrong, or you feel something is about to go wrong, it is natural to alert others to the problem. This is particularly true when a decision is made that you disagree with and would have done differently.

In these moments, it is important to remember that you probably have only a narrow view of how a decision was made. That is, you may not have all of the context to know what trade-offs were considered. What you do have is a perspective from lower down in the organization that those in leadership positions might not have. Ask yourself, if you were the one who had made the decision, what information would be most helpful for you to have to evaluate the success of that decision?

From that perspective, the best feedback you can provide to people above you in the organization is information that would be hard for them to get for themselves in a timely fashion. Focus your feedback on what you observe from your vantage point and concerns you have based on the job you’re doing.

When you send this feedback, focus primarily on what you observe rather than on your explanation for the problem. That is the information most likely to get the attention of your bosses. If they need additional thoughts about why those consequences are happening, they will come back to you for more information—but even if they don’t you will have provided valuable input. Indeed, studies suggest that providing people with information that they might not have otherwise is the most appreciated kind of advice.

Don’t be a complainer

Think about the people you are most likely to take advice from. Chances are, they are people who you believe know your situation well, have your best interests at heart, and have expertise that ought to change the way you are thinking about something.

When you give advice, you want to be seen as having key knowledge, good intentions, and an understanding of the overall situation.

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To be seen as having those characteristics by those above you in the organization, you need to communicate both what is going well and what isn’t. Your feedback is likely to get discounted if the only time you speak up is when something is going wrong. After all, your organization is probably reasonably successful. So making it clear that you understand both what is working and what is not is useful for letting others know that you are knowledgeable about the work situation.

Have a plan

When you do register a complaint, discuss what you have done and plan to do to address the problems you have observed. If you’re not sure whether you should pursue a particular course of action, you can ask when you provide your feedback. The aim of thinking about what actions you can take is to help yourself to be seen not just as someone who finds problems, but also someone who seeks solutions and acts to fix the problems you observe. That attitude will help your bosses to see you as someone who truly has the organization’s best interests at heart.

Finally, don’t get discouraged if your first attempt to raise a concern does not meet with success, even if you turn out to be right. People making decisions in an organization are getting information from many sources. Even if they don’t appear to have acted on your recommendations, your concerns may still have been heard. And even if they were not, it can take time to develop the kind of relationship with other people in the organization that leads them to trust your observations.