Illustration: Ashley Siebels
When your supervisor asks for feedback on their performance in a rare moment, it’s easy to tense up. But don’t panic — here are four things to do instead.
Take a deep breath
Don’t freak out! Just use this as an opportunity to respectfully get your thoughts across, and prove that you have your finger on the pulse at work.
So get your thoughts in order before responding. Pause and embrace a moment of silence instead of rattling off everything that comes to mind. The last thing you want to do is offend your supervisor because you said something you wish you’d kept inside your head.
Do your homework
Author, speaker, and Harvard Business Review contributing editor Amy Gallo features advice from John Baldoni, a leadership consultant, coach, and author of Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up, in the publication.
“The ability to give and receive upward feedback, like any form of feedback, is dependent on the relationship between you and your boss. Without trust, the feedback will be impossible to receive. Before giving feedback, you need to gauge whether your boss will be open to what you have to say. If you know that your boss is unreceptive to feedback, is likely to react negatively, or if you have a rocky relationship, it’s better not to say anything,” Gallo writes. “However, as Baldoni points out, ‘If your boss is open-minded and you have a good relationship, you owe him the straight talk.’ As with any feedback, your intentions must be good and your desire to help your boss should supersede any issues you may have between you.”
Do some introspection
Mike Gellman, an organizational consultant, coach, and the author of Pipe Dreams: 7 Pipelines of Career Success, writes in Entrepreneur about a difficult boss who used profane language in the office, and the falling out she had with her HR director who was trying to prevent that behavior from becoming acceptable at work. The HR director “backed down” and later exited the company.
The beginning of his strategy for critiquing “a defensive boss” is to get a meeting on the calendar, then “self-assess to determine your role in the problem” beforehand.
“It’s important to understand and acknowledge your contribution to the issue: Has your silence, attitude, or accusations added to the tension in some way? Have you misrepresented or distorted any facts? Have your emotions gotten the best of you? Take an honest look at your own behavior,” he writes.
Stand your ground — just remember who you’re talking to
Levi King, Founder & CEO of Nav, writes in Inc. that he’s worked in the business arena for 20 years, and shares what he’s figured out about critiquing leaders. One of his tips is “don’t beat around the bush.”
“Be as nice to me as you can, but don’t hold back,” he writes. “Once you’ve made the decision to rip me a new one, say everything that you need to say. No matter how harsh it may seem, spell it out plainly. If your critique is thorough and respectful, chances are great that I’ll learn and grow from the experience. On the other hand, if you’re overly cautious for the sake of my feelings, it’ll not only waste both our time, it’ll leave me with the impression that you pulled your punches.”