Priya sits in her boss's office and looks at the clock for the umpteenth time in the past half hour. She has been waiting to have a one-on-one meeting with her boss. And, as usual, her boss is running late. She thinks about the pending emails in her inbox and mentally assesses how much of work she could have done, instead of sitting there. One of these days, she solemnly tells herself, that she will provide feedback to her boss and still be able to keep her job, hopefully.
While offering feedback can be difficult, as it is, providing feedback to your boss when the message is negative can be extremely awkward and hard. Nowadays, several companies are moving towards a 360 degree performance evaluation process. Here, the employee also gets an opportunity to provide feedback on their supervisor's performance and can also do this in an anonymous fashion. However, there are times and situations when you just want to meet your boss one-on-one and offer negative feedback on their managerial style or work performance.
Here are some valuable tips on how you can offer constructive criticism to your boss and still be able to maintain a professional working relationship and more importantly, keep your job:
Evaluate your relationship
Before you decide to approach your boss, pause for a minute and examine the existing relationship that you share with your boss. As you already know, the rapport you share with your boss will make or mar the work you do, your growth within the company, your incentives, etc. So, think twice before you have this conversation with him or her. If you have a positive and trust-based relationship with your supervisor, then you can proceed with confidence that your boss will be receptive to what you have to convey. If the current dynamics with your boss is shaky, then is it advisable to hold off on saying anything for the time being and to keep your silence.
Timing your approach
Now that you have decided to speak your mind to your boss, the timing is of the essence. Not only is it important to have this meeting in private, but also make sure that this happens behind closed doors and not in an area where anyone can walk around and overhear. If you are upset or angry from something that your boss did or did not do at the appropriate juncture, refrain from the impulsive instinct to confront your boss on the spur of the moment, as this could result in a no win situation. Postpone the meeting until you've had time to cool off your emotions, but don't wait too long so that the issue that has affected you may be forgotten. Acting on complaints within a reasonable time span from the time the incident occurred will yield better results.
Formulate your content
If you have an open-minded boss who is interested in hearing what you have to say, prepare yourself and have relevant content and context in your constructive criticism. Stay away from getting personal or sentimental and maintain professional decorum at all times.
Carefully outline your speech and practice how you will talk prior to the meeting. Bring relevant emails or files to the meeting to back-up your case. Your aim should be to convey regret or hurt in a professional manner without sounding resentful or accusatory. Be direct in your statements and try to keep them brief. Don't go overboard in preaching how you would handle the issue if you were a manager. Your goal is to express your feedback from your own experience and not offer your opinion on how you feel he should have dealt with the issue. And lastly, conclude by saying that you are thankful for your boss's support throughout in order to be able to talk about this. An emphasis on your boss's positive traits will help diffuse some tension caused due to a negative conversation.
Dealing with the outcome
Most managers are not happy or do not react positively as soon as they hear your side of the story, no matter how well you have phrased it. They become defensive or may also go into an angry silence mode where they have to digest all the details that they've heard from an employee who reports to them. Watch for signs and be attuned to their reaction so that you can decide if your boss is open to criticism or such kind of feedback is out of limits and not acceptable. If you get a clear indication that you have stepped out of your boundaries and have upset him or her, don't harp on the issue and instead use the incident to confirm what would be acceptable forms of communication/feedback going forward. To summarise, keep in mind that when you are offering feedback that is not so glowing to your boss, use tact and the right words with great caution. Giving specific examples of the exact situation to describe your discomfort will help your boss understand your grievance better and alter their own behaviour in the future.
And, express clearly that your intention in providing the feedback is to help improve the existing positive working relationship and that you are not trying to sabotage it. Lastly, whatever the outcome of the conversation, don't talk about what transpired behind closed doors to even your best friend or colleague. This will only result in rumours being spread around the office and take away any credible feelings that your boss may have had about the conversation.