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How to give your boss feedback (and keep your job)

Sometimes it’s necessary to provide feedback, but it can be a delicate situation.

How to give your boss feedback (and keep your job)
[Source Image: Christina Morillo/Pexels]

You’ve probably heard that people don’t quit jobs; they quit bosses. In today’s hiring market with record numbers of employees resigning, that may or may not always be true. But bad bosses can definitely be a factor for employees who decide to leave.

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“I think that a lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been putting up with this manager for way too long. All of a sudden, we are in an incredible job market, and I’m going to take my chances and test it out and see if there is a better fit and a better opportunity available,'” says Stephanie Lovell, head of marketing for Hirect, a hiring app for tech startup founders.

If you’re considering leaving your job because of your manager, consider this: What if your boss is a fixer upper? A diamond in the rough? Someone who just needs some input on how to do a better job? Giving your boss feedback may not only be a way to correct your frustration; it can be helpful for your boss, too. It can also be tricky.

But instead of diving into a list of grievances, consider these steps:

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1. Understand Your Goal

Before you start the conversation, know what’s the purpose of the feedback, says Jones Loflin, author of Always Growing: How to Be a Strong(er) Leader In Any Season.

“Is it to give the boss feedback on their performance or to give them feedback on a project?” he asks. “Those are two different things, so you’ve got to be clear because that changes the dynamics. If the feedback is about them, you’ll have to be a lot more cautious in how you’re sharing your thoughts.”

2. Prepare for the Conversation

Plan what you want to say, instead of doing it off the cuff, says Lovell. “Jot down some items that you want to chat about,” she says. “And make sure that the conversation is happening face to face in some way, whether that’s in person or through a Zoom meeting.”

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Seeing someone’s face in this type of meeting is important because body language and facial expressions add a lot of context that can’t be conveyed over the phone. “You’ll be able to garner their reaction better and steer the direction of the conversation in an appropriate way if you’re able to see those visual cues,” says Lovell.

3. Ease Into Your Feedback

First, ask permission to provide your thoughts, says Loflin. For example, you can start by asking, “I know you have a lot on your plate. I’ve noticed [this issue]. Can I give you a couple thoughts on that?”

“Then stay with data and things that you’ve seen that are happening,” says Loflin. “You’re wanting to share your perspective; you’re not telling them what you think they should be doing.”

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Lovell suggests starting with something small first to see if they’re open to receiving feedback or if they immediately shut it down. “If they immediately shut down the small things, they’re probably not going to be open to the bigger things,” she says. “I think that’s probably a fairly good indicator of how they will take larger feedback.”

Remove the Emotion

Feelings and hearsay have no place in the conversation, says Loflin. “Your boss doesn’t have time for it and it’s not helpful,” he says.

Approach the conversation honestly and respectfully, says Lovell. “Try to be as direct as you can, but make sure that your tone is professional,” she says, adding there are ways to back into the conversation.

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“When I give feedback, I start by using phrases like, ‘I’ve been having this issue. What do you think about approaching it from this direction?'” says Lovell. “That makes whomever you’re speaking with feel like they’re part of the conversation and part of the solution and not the problem. It brings them in early on.”

Another helpful way to offer feedback is to communicate how the change could positively impact your workflow. For example, you can say, “I think I could be this much more efficient if X, Y, and Z happened.”

“Showing them why it’s important and what the results will be is very important,” says Lovell. “You don’t want to just enter the conversation, and say, ‘Hey, these are the problems’ and offer no solutions.”

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Create a Two-Way Street

Once you provide your feedback, ask for theirs, suggests Lovell. “Keep it a very open conversation, making sure that it’s two-sided and that you’re not attacking them,” she says. “People will naturally get defensive when feedback starts to come about.”

Loflin suggests ending the conversation by asking how you can help. “Let your boss know that you welcome the opportunity to help improve the situation,” he says.

Feedback can feel awkward, especially when you’re giving it to your boss, but if you don’t take the risk, your situation will remain exactly the same that it is right now or could potentially get worse.

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“The only way that I’m able to grow as an individual and a leader is by getting feedback,” says Lovell. “I need people to tell me how they think I can grow or certain areas where I need to improve. I know some people are not always open to feedback, but if it doesn’t happen it can stagnate your relationship with your boss.”

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