| 15 July, 2021 | 6 Min Read

How to give "safe" negative feedback to your boss (with examples)

Over the years, employees have struggled with giving negative feedback to their work superiors. The process is delicate and a poor delivery could come off as disrespectful. To deal with this challenging situation, we will be showing you how to express your disapproval politely.

Feedback isn’t one-sided, and for the sake of growth in an organization, leaders and managers are to be evaluated too. In the workforce, employees are used to receiving feedback. They spend all year preparing to nail their performance review. But when the tables turn, they are oblivious of handling the situation due to the nature of the working relationship with their boss.

For times when your boss needs your honest opinion about an idea, a project, or their leadership skills, there are professional and courteous ways to get this done. We will be discussing the art of giving critical feedback to a work superior in a constructive and non-derogatory manner.

The right way to give feedback to your boss, even if it's negative

When dealing with your boss, you must know that you’re also dealing with their ego. While your unbiased opinion is necessary for growth, you need not be too direct as it might bruise their ego. Asking questions is a preferable approach.

So, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to give honest feedback to your boss by simply asking questions:

Grove HR - how to give negative feedback to your boss infographic

Ask your boss to shed more light

Rather than criticizing your boss’s idea or writing their efforts off, ask them to help you understand. Ask for how they came to that conclusion. Even if you fully understand, you’d need to show a little bit of empathy and ask them to work you through the process

💡 Examples

  • This sounds like an interesting plan, help me understand how you got here
  • I don’t quite understand this section, could you please shed more light?

Ask for the history of the initiative

Next, ask for a little background story that birthed that idea. This will help you see where they’re coming from and run through their idea all over again. Asking for the impetus creates a space for more questions. You question them, they also question themselves

💡 Examples

  • May I know how you arrived at this?
  • What are the factors surrounding the inclusion of this idea?

Lay down your options

To make your boss understand that you’ve been following the whole process and not trying to throw away their ideas:

1. Offer an alternative.

2. Pitch your ideas by briefing them with what you think is the better option.

3. Help them see things from your point of view.

💡 Examples

Ask for their opinions about the options you provided

You don’t want your boss thinking you’re trying to take their place or jump to the conclusion that your idea has been approved. While you’re sharing your opinion and thoughts on theirs, create a space for them to reciprocate.

💡 Examples

  • What are your thoughts about the proposed idea?
  • Do you think this idea serves as a good alternative for the accomplishment of this project?

Come to a final agreement

Now, you and your boss are on the same page. You can both agree to disagree. At this stage, you can weigh both your options and strike out a balance. The “what if” factor comes into the picture.

💡 Examples

  • What if we increase the budget of this project
  • What if we set goals for employees as it facilitates a better performance review

Real-life examples

Are the hypothetical illustrations not giving you the details you need to give your boss negative feedback in a subtle manner? Here are some real-life examples that employees get to face every day.

1. When your boss keeps increasing your workload

  • I can’t take up this task with how sensitive the current project is. Can you make it easier by helping me prioritize?
  • This project is a little more complicated than I expected. Can you please recommend an easier structure?
  • I can complete this task, only if we can extend the deadline.

2. When your boss sets unrealistic expectations

  • Considering the challenging situation of [X], can we go over the goals for this project?
  • What is the success rate for this project? I don’t have a clear understanding of your expectations
  • It seems like you want me to… but I previously thought I was supposed to… Am I right?

3. When your boss’s instructions are unclear or contradictory

  • I’m having trouble with the project [X]… could you walk me through the process again?
  • I would love for you to clarify this situation. You said earlier that…, which is quite different from what you’re saying now. Would you please explain your instructions?

4. When your boss keeps taking credit for your work

It was great to hear you talk about my work in the team meeting. Next time would you be willing to let them know where that came from, so if they have further questions they can see me?

5. When your boss is a hypocrite

You urged us to always go to the gym during lunch hours. This is essential for our physical and mental well-being. Last week, you decided to shorten lunch hours so we could spend more time working. Could you please share your reasons for that decision?

6. When your boss constantly rejects your ideas

The last four times I tried pitching an idea, you rejected my ideas rather quickly. How do you prefer I approach you with the next ideas to be more effective?

7. When your boss keeps playing favourites

In the past couple of weeks, you’ve queried us all for coming late to the office, but you haven’t batted an eye whenever John came in late. It’s also rare that you sanction him for arriving late. What are your thoughts about the perception of favouritism towards John?

8. When your boss blames you for their actions

At yesterday’s meeting, you had implied I had made a mistake with the task assigned to the team. I wasn’t aware of that. Could you please provide a little more context about how my actions affected the execution of this assignment?

9. When your boss micromanages you

I am fully aware of your busy schedule and I wouldn’t want to waste your time on the details of this project. How can I assure you that the outcome will meet and probably exceed your expectations?

10. When your boss keeps threatening you

I respect your feedback on the completion of my recent deadline. I agree with you that I need to improve my time management skills to take up more assignments. I will start making the necessary adjustments today. I would appreciate your honest and constructive honest feedback without the threats. We both want what’s best for the company and the continuous threats are only going to make it more difficult for us to achieve our goals as a team.

Take the bold step today

It takes a whole lot of courage to give negative feedback to your manager, but it is always worth it in the end. You don’t have to wait till your boss conducts 360-degree feedback to give your honest opinions, you need to deal with the situation quickly. However, you must know that it is best to have feedback conversations in private.

Negative feedback is just as important as positive feedback. If your boss finds it difficult to receive feedback, it is a toxic culture red flag to watch out for, and being productive would be more difficult than you thought. In such a situation, you should find a company that duly appreciates your efforts.

Ahead of your next performance review, here are 10+ best self-evaluation examples for performance review for you to prepare for a successful session.

Download 10+ self-evaluation examples for performance review →

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