Feedback to your boss 3 hardest things to give feedback to your boss on

Thoughtful, constructive feedback helps everyone work together better, but giving upward feedback to your boss can be tricky, especially when it’s about behaviour that directly affects you.

Giving upward feedback to your boss can be tricky
Here’s how to give your boss feedback when:
  • You’re being micromanaged
  • Your boss can’t say no to new work
  • Your boss doesn’t respect you

Your boss is probably the most important person you work with. A good, healthy, respectful relationship with them can boost your productivity, your morale and your career. But working with your boss can also bring up tensions, fears, and dislikes that can get in the way of doing good work.

Giving your boss feedback when they’ve crossed the line or if they’re not supporting you can be tricky especially if it puts your job or your relationship at risk - you may be worried about how honest you can be without creating tension or making it worse.

The thing is they may not realise the impact they’re having or how they’re being received. They may not have stopped to reflect on what they’re doing.

If done well, upward feedback can not only improve your working relationship but will also help your boss. So the important thing is to talk to them. 

3 hardest things to feedback to your boss on

Here are examples of how to give constructive feedback to your boss on three of the hardest issues, with some general principles - use the approach to give them feedback in a conversation or 360 feedback review. 

There are 4 general principles for how to give feedback:
  • Focus on the behaviour: be explicit about what your boss did and how they did it. Don’t make it personal.
  • Explain the impact: what effect your boss’s behaviour is having - on you, on the work. 
  • Speak for yourself and not for others
  • Suggest a solution: make an offer and be open to talk about it. You may not like the behaviour but there might be a reason that’s driving it. 

1. My boss is micromanaging me

This is a common problem.

It might help to reflect on why they are micromanaging you. What's going on that makes them feel that they need to get into the details with you? 

It may have nothing to do with you. It may be because they are getting pressure from above. It might be because they used to do your job and only recently became a manager. Micromanaging could be more comfortable than working out how to support you and help you grow. 

The real issue is that you don't know, and you also don’t know how to change so that they will get off your back and give you space to get on with it.

It may be hard to have this conversation - your best way in might be to phrase your feedback like this:

“I sometimes get micro-managed. I feel frustrated and resentful when this happens because I know how to do my job. I'm curious to know what I could do differently to help you have more confidence in my work so that they feel able to leave me to it. If there is something I need to learn I'd be grateful to hear it. I would welcome a conversation about this.”

2. My boss never says no, which puts me under a lot of pressure

I remember consulting on this issue with a small team. They were feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks and projects their boss had taken on. 

How do you give feedback to your boss about this? One option is to communicate clearly and regularly with them about all the things that you have on. Make sure you do some upfront thinking about what is required for each ie how long is it going to take and when you can do it. Then schedule all that time in your calendar.

Pretty quickly that’ll flag up that there’s no way to get everything done in the available time.

If you've done this upfront thinking you can show your boss your calendar and say, “Look, I've put all the work in, but I can't do it all. Can you help me determine what the priorities are?”

Your boss might respond by saying, “You do need to do it all, but you don't need to do all of it to the standard that you think you do. Let's talk about what the output should look like.” 

That will help.

You could also model good behaviour by saying that you can do everything that is being asked - you have the capability - but you don’t have the capacity right now. You can use that as a respectful way of saying no to new work, until you do have the capacity.

You could also suggest a “big board” that maps all of the work of your team, showing what's coming up and who's working on what. (You could use an online tool such as Trello.) By making all the work visible, you have a guide for what’s on and can use it to say no collectively, which is a way of supporting your manager without patronising them or challenging their authority.

3. My boss doesn’t respect me

This can be really disconcerting, and hard to know how to engage with. 

First of all, what is it that makes you feel they don't respect you? What are they doing and how are they behaving? Be specific because that is really useful feedback. 

If they don't know how you are feeling they'll continue to behave in these ways, quite possibly causing anxiety without realising or intending to.

Of course it may be that they are being pointedly disrespectful. Disrespectful behaviour is not okay and is never an appropriate response in a workplace. Making them aware that the behaviour has been noticed might be enough to stop it. 

When you give feedback, be explicit about the problematic behaviour without making a judgement about the person. For example “when you do X or Y, I feel disrespected. I would rather you did X if there is a concern or issue so that it can be dealt with. When I feel disrespected I find it harder to do Z so it would be great if we could break this pattern.“

The point is: if you make it about them rather than the behaviour, you'll get a defensive reaction. 

Alternatively, if it is actually about the way you manage or there has been a specific incident or a clash of personalities it would be really helpful to understand that. 

You could use a 360 review on yourself to explore this - ask trusted colleagues or even your friends (who know you best) if there are things about you that might lead to a disrespectful response. That might feel uncomfortable, but if it was me, I'd rather know so I could do something about it, or be clear about the consequences of continuing in the same vein.

A 360 is a safe way to broach this issue, but it'll be better and faster if tackled through a conversation with the person concerned.

To find out the hardest things to feedback on to your colleagues, and how to do it click here.

You may have other difficult issues to feedback on, but if you follow the approaches to giving feedback shown above, you'll find thoughtful and non-threatening ways to help you and your boss have a better relationship and make your own experience of work a more pleasant and enjoyable one. 

One way to make giving feedback easier is to run a 360 review. If you’re looking for good 360 review software that supports the growth of the people in your organisation: have a look at tools like AdviceSheet.