Giving feedback is usually considered to be a manager’s responsibility. But giving your manager feedback, called upward feedback, benefits the manager and the company in many ways.
Did you know that a recent survey has discovered that employees who do not feel comfortable giving manager feedback are 16% less likely to stay at their organizations?
When employees know they are being heard and their suggestions are being acted upon, they feel more invested in the workplace. Consequently, this boosts morale, job satisfaction, and productivity.
Managers become more engaged and effective as well when they get actionable feedback.
In fact, a Gallup survey discovered that managers who received feedback from employees lead teams that are 8.9% more profitable than those who don’t.
Offering upward feedback can be awkward at the best of times, but it has proven advantages.
Harvard Business Review suggests that when offered correctly and thoughtfully, manager feedback improves your working relationship apart from helping your manager improve his leadership skills.
Why should you share manager feedback?
As an employee, you’ll want to share manager feedback under two circumstances:
1Things are NOT going well with your role/working relationship:
If your manager is unaware of the difficulties you’re facing, she can’t help you. A first step to making things right is to bring them to her attention.
By offering constructive feedback, you may be able to fix a strained relationship with your manager.
If your comments are valid, you will not only earn your manager’s respect but she may well come to value your opinion.
Example: “I know you’re really busy with back-to-back meetings, but I miss our regular one on one meetings every week. I think I have progressed a lot from the last time we met and set some goals. I’d really like to meet more often to check in on my progress.”
2Things are going well with your role/working relationship:
An affirmation that you appreciate what your manager does will help your manager stay engaged and will strengthen your working relationship with her.
You may be top of her mind when new opportunities arise.
Example: “I was really struggling with my sales pitch last week with the new client. I should have come to you sooner for help, but I thought you might be busy. Thank you for guiding me through it and giving me tips to make it more impactful!”
Four key topics to share manager feedback
Don’t feel like you need to take on every task assigned to you if you cannot handle the workload.
Burnout is a medically recognized phenomenon, which will leave you feeling not as productive as you can be.
Speak to your manager about reassigning projects or shifting deadlines. Be honest about how much you can reasonably work on.
Example: “I’d be happy to take this up, but we may need to push the deadline by another two weeks.”
Even though we all know that clear communication is important to the success of any project, it is surprising how often things are miscommunicated.
Ask your manager for more information or context instead of making your own assumptions.
Example: “May we discuss the guidelines for this new project in more detail since the client has been changing them frequently? I want to make sure we are in agreement over everything.”
If you’re having trouble with structuring a project or feeling overwhelmed, ask for your manager’s advice.
Example: “I’m having trouble with this new project because I don’t have experience executing such concepts and there is a lack of resources. Could you please help me structure it?”
When working on a project, you and your manager may have different expectations about execution, delivery, and outcomes.
You’ll want to align your thoughts to avoid running into trouble later.
Example: “I thought we could execute this project in this manner, but it looks like you have a different opinion. Can we please discuss this?”
So far, we have discussed why it is important to get over your hesitation and speak up when you’re facing challenges at work.
But we have still not answered the important question as to how to go about it properly.
Remember: It may be stressful to share manager feedback, but ultimately it will help you both.
Your insights will enable your manager to become better at her job, and consequently support and guide you better.
How to share manager feedback?
We have a few actionable tips for delivering constructive manager feedback:
1Consider the state of your relationship
Does your manager encourage feedback from direct reports?
And, does she view you as a valuable member of the team?
Before you approach your manager to offer feedback, consider the following factors:
- How often you interact with her
- How long your working relationship has been
- What is the history of your success
The most important consideration in giving upward feedback involves the leader-member exchange theory (LMX).
In short, the theory says that managers form different relationships with each direct report.
When a manager and her direct report have a high-quality relationship or a high LMX, the manager provides resources to the direct report to help him work better, encourages his development, and values his feedback.
So, if you have a decent LMX with your manager, you can consider sharing what’s on your mind.
However, if you’re still unsure, ask yourself these questions:
- Does my manager seem like a person who would retaliate if she does not like the feedback I offer?
- Do I have quality feedback to share? How badly do I want to share this feedback?
- Can my manager actually fire me?
If the environment seems right after you have considered all these things, you can move ahead.
Let’s face it!
Not all managers will be comfortable receiving feedback, especially if it is constructive feedback.
In an ideal world, you should be able to share your opinion without worrying about any sort of backlash.
However, reality is quite different. Hence, there is no reason for you to risk your relationship with your manager.
PRO TIP: Remember, the manager-direct report relationship comes first. Don’t destroy it for the sake of upward feedback.
If the relationship is already strained or the subject of your feedback is sensitive, don’t lay your job on the line.
In a situation like this, it is advisable to lay low until you find the right opportunity.
One on one meetings can be a great platform to gauge your manager’s intent and prepare you to take the step towards sharing that feedback you have been waiting to share.
Alternately, you can wait for anonymous surveys like 360 degree feedback surveys.
But be aware that anonymity may not have the same impact as a face-to-face interaction.
2Determine the appropriate time to give manager feedback
No matter how good your relationship is with your manager, no one likes to be called out in public.
You will come off as confrontational, and this will harm your cohesion within the team and undermine your manager’s authority.
The best time and place to give manager feedback is NOT:
- at a team meeting or a company-wide meeting,
- when your manager is discussing a new project or explaining a company policy, and
- when in a meeting with a client.
Choose wisely. It should be a space that is private, dedicated, and unhurried. This can be:
- A one on one meeting
- A check-in session before or after a meeting
- A performance review
You don’t want to pull your manager aside to give feedback when she is rushing into another meeting or during a conversation with several other pressing agenda items.
She is also not likely to be receptive if she is dealing with stressful events in her personal life.
Your manager should be in the right headspace for you to deliver your feedback with maximum effect.
PRO TIP: Your regular one on one meetings are the most appropriate and psychologically-safe space to share upward feedback.
If you aren’t having these meetings often enough, you can ask for them or request a separate meeting to be scheduled for upward feedback.
You can learn how to request a one on one meeting here.
3Focus on how the behavior impacts YOU
An important thing to remember is to talk about how the concerning behavior impacts you instead of discussing what others are doing.
You can use a feedback framework such as the SBI model (Situation, Behavior, Impact). This will help you focus on the facts and experience, instead of making it personal.
An example is given below.
Situation: Yesterday, at our meeting…
Behavior: You announced that we would focus on a new project exclusively for the next 2 weeks…
Impact: I had to change my priorities and put aside other important work. When this happens too often, my productivity gets hampered.
PRO TIP: Ensure that you’re making assessments based on evidence, not emotions or stereotypes.
Don’t allow your unconscious biases to reflect in the language you’re using to give feedback, especially stereotypes around gender.
Also, instead of pointing a finger at your manager, talk to him about how his actions are impacting your productivity and motivation.
For instance, your manager may not be too forthcoming about her schedule and priorities for the day. This forces you to re-jig your own tasks to align with her priorities.
Consequently, you find that you cannot focus properly on any single task and all remain unfinished by the end of the day.
Even if you do manage to finish a task, you aren’t able to deliver the kind of quality you’re aiming for. This leaves you feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with your work, and demotivated about the next day.
You can speak to your manager about the issue in two ways:
Solution 1: “You’re never clear about your priorities for the day. I never know what task will land on my desk next. I can’t work like this!”
Solution 2: “I am having trouble concentrating on and completing my tasks satisfactorily because of conflicting priorities. Would it be possible to have a quick conversation before we begin work to determine the importance of each task?”
Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and decide for yourself which approach would yield better results.
4Prepare your remarks ahead of time
Your manager may be aware that she needs constructive feedback, but that doesn’t make it any easier for her to hear it.
So you’ll need to present your feedback properly to ensure it is received in the right way.
Think about how you’ll approach the discussion, what you’ll say, and which specific points you’ll put forward. Jot down notes to remember relevant points.
Just like you set an agenda for your one on one meetings, it will help to build one for sharing manager feedback as well.
You can also include upward feedback as a talking point when building a shared agenda for your next one on one meeting, as exchanging feedback is one of the primary purposes of having these meetings.
5Focus on your own perspective
Don’t offer feedback from the perspective of “Were I the manager, I would do it this way.”
Such feedback is not likely to be received well, no matter how close you are to your manager.
Also, you don’t know your manager’s reality, since you don’t get to see the whole picture.
Instead, focus on what you have observed. Use statements like “I noticed that you spoke only about one aspect…” or “When you talk about productivity, I feel…”
Offering feedback from your perspective communicates that you respect the management hierarchy and helps your manager look at things from a different viewpoint.
You can clearly state your concerns, whereas your manager gets to make their own decisions.
Example: “We have been increasingly focused on a single client for the last two months, and I feel other clients may feel ignored. Since you have a broader perspective, what do you think?”
6Support your statements with data. Be specific.
You have a much better chance to be heard and understood if you voice specific concerns instead of stating general opinions.
If the issue is about an incident or an event, talk about what happened and who was involved.
Speak only the facts and talk about how the incident affected you and your ability to get work done.
Don’t speculate about your manager’s motives or make assumptions about others.
“When you were talking about the project delay yesterday, you seemed to have lost your temper. It made me upset and I could not focus on what was being said at the meeting. Can we please discuss how to deal with the issue more calmly?”
‘Not effective’ Example: “You got angry yesterday because you thought I was being lazy at work. It’s not my fault. Sarah did not turn up for days!”
7Don’t make accusations. Use “I” statements
When you’re offering manager feedback, resist the temptation to point fingers at your manager.
Watch your tone — don’t make it accusatory, inflammatory, or harsh.
Use polite and professional language at all times.
A good practice is to describe how the behavior affected you by using ‘I’ statements. Be honest, empathetic, and factual.
Remember that your manager is human, too, and she will respond to criticism much like you do–defensively.
Example: “I would appreciate more autonomy in my current project as I feel tied down.”
Example: “I’m happy with the way we’re connecting over this project. But I’d like more feedback on how I’m executing it in sections. I feel the internal expectations on this are shifting and I’d like more clarity.”
8Start with affirmative feedback, then offer constructive feedback with suggestions
Positive manager feedback:
Managers rarely get any positive feedback, so you’d do well to start with an affirmation of what is going well for you and what you’d like to continue doing.
Appreciate them for things like clearly setting expectations for a project or pushing back unrealistic deadlines.
‘Not effective’ example: “You’re a great manager! I love working with you.”
‘Effective’ example: “I appreciate that you heard my concerns about the unrealistic deadlines for my project and got them pushed to a more comfortable date.”
Constructive manager feedback:
Remember not to link positive statements and constructive statements with words like ‘however,’ ‘but,’ or ‘although.’
This makes manager feedback sound false and your manager may not be receptive to your suggestions.
Don’t just state the problem; think through solutions as well from your perspective.
When you share potential solutions, your manager feels that you are invested in the success of the team.
It sends the message that you and your manager are united towards a common goal.
‘Not effective’ example: “When we meet during our one on one meetings, you are never prepared.”
‘Effective’ example: “Our one on one meetings could be more effective if we created a shared agenda and reviewed materials in advance.”
Negative manager feedback:
When giving negative manager feedback, it is a good practice to use the ‘three plus, one minus rule.’
This means that you offer three positive remarks along with a negative statement.
If your positive statements are perceived as candid and factual, your negative remark will be considered valid as well.
Example: “I have clear goals, realistic timelines, and adequate resources for this project. I think we can improve things by making our customer interaction more prompt and engaging.”
Finally, offer feedback on one thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm your manager with a litany of complaints.
Allow her the time and space to think about and act on your feedback before tackling another issue.
One on one meetings: Best platform to manage up
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, says:
One on one meetings are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect.
It is an employee’s time, not manager’s. That’s why it is a manager’s most important chance to hear from their direct reports.
Usually, one on one meetings are held weekly for around 30 min – 60 min, so it is ideal to pass on feedback in a timely manner instead of letting it sit for when the employee can find an opportune moment.
Exchanging feedback is an important purpose of one on one meeting.
One on one meetings are the best place to share manager feedback because:
- They are a psychologically safe and private space for dedicated conversations between managers and direct reports.
- They offer a platform to exchange candid and constructive feedback and have open, in-depth conversations.
Also, since the employee mostly controls the agenda, she can include manager feedback as an exclusive talking point.
She can use this time to discuss concerns about work, co-workers, or work environment that are uppermost in her thoughts.
If you aren’t having one on one meetings already, you can request your manager to schedule them regularly. You can also suggest the use of a one on one meeting software to streamline these meetings.
Effective One on One Meetings
We built a software that automatically schedules, lets you set agenda, take notes, exchange feedback and track actions – all in one place.
To help you take the initiative and be prepared for these sessions, we have compiled an employee one on one meeting template for you.
Although it should go without saying, you should never view manager feedback as ‘payback time’ for any slight, real or perceived.
Attacking your manager during a feedback session will only damage your relationship with her further and destroy any trust remaining between you.