Giving Feedback to the Boss

giving manager feedback

Whether they are disgruntled or simply hopeful, many employees are dying to evaluate their boss. Some employers may welcome candid feedback, but most would refuse it. After all, they’re the boss for a reason. Why would they listen to their subordinates, right? 


Manager evaluations are just as important as employee feedback. In fact, it is even more crucial. Studies show that leaders who ask for feedback score higher in overall leadership effectiveness than those who don’t. 

When an employer willingly accepts feedback from an employee, it shows how much they care about the organization. Taking the necessary steps towards better management will likely boost a more productive and conducive work environment.

On the other hand, giving feedback is also intimidating for most employees. Some would rather hold their tongue so as not to offend their boss. Others may feel entitled and forget tact when speaking their minds.

Moreover, employers who are open to criticism might still feel miffed hearing it from their staff. So, it’s important that employees deliver their feedback in a way that connects to the employer.

Giving Effective Feedback to a Manager

So how can the staff make their managers listen? We list down tips to help employees provide feedback without stepping on their boss’ toes.

Gauge the Employer

First and foremost, we can’t assume that all bosses are wired the same way. Simplistically, they come in two kinds: the bad one and the good one.

Good Boss vs. Not So Good Boss

Good employers would be receptive to feedback and are even likely to ask for it themselves. These types of employers are constantly looking to create a positive work environment. Talents need to recognize this and provide an honest appraisal.

On the other hand, other employers are the retaliating type. In this case, employees would be better off waiting for annual appraisals or similar feedback platforms that promise anonymity. 

But in any rare case that this type of employer personally asks for candid feedback, employees should first ask themselves: are they asking for a genuine opinion, or would my response put me in hot water?

If it’s the former, then employees should stick to the facts when presenting their case. Otherwise, they should focus instead on the manager’s positive contributions without delving into their areas for improvement. 

Determine the Relationship 

The employer-employee relationship also plays a key role in predicting how a manager would react to an evaluation. Many employers value the opinion of subordinates that have previously worked with them. 

Without a trusting relationship, such leaders are likely to shut down others’ opinion of them. 

Now, once the employee realizes that their manager values their opinion and wants to know their feedback, then they must make the most of the situation. 

Assess the Organizational System

For employees who can’t seem to determine which category their boss falls, better assess the company’s organizational structure. Some companies are organized in a way that makes upward appraisals difficult—sometimes, even unwelcome. 

In this case, we would advise employees to hold back unsolicited appraisals. Trust us, the manager will remember it but not necessarily appreciate it.

Stick to the Script

Don’t improvise. Don’t even think about it. Some employees feel confident enough to walk into their employer’s office, only to find themselves fumbling for the right reasons towards the end.

No doubt, it’s not easy to provide feedback to the boss. That’s why employees need to prepare for it. That means writing down what they wish to discuss and going over the key points.

Start and End with the Positives

The most effective way to provide any feedback is through the sandwich method: start with the positives, stick the negatives in between, and end with another set of positives. Starting with the good points sets the mood of the discussion and easily draws the employer to listen further. 

Be Specific

When providing feedback, employees should work on observable facts and examples. If they didn’t like what happened in the previous meeting, they should be able to identify the parts that were specifically upsetting. 

Focusing on specific instances shows the employer that their methods are not being attacked. Rather, it’s only the small, measurable cases that need weeding or improvement.

Mind the Word Choice

The key to an effective feedback is to use verbs instead of adjectives. Words like “bossy” or “hot-headed” might come off as an attack. But pointing out that a manager “interrupted” someone’s discussion or “dismissed” someone’s idea feels more impersonal.

Step into their Shoes

Mostly, employees should place themselves in their manager’s shoes before providing feedback. Employees can make the safe assumption that they might have only a narrow perspective of the issues at hand. 

As such, employees should give their managers a chance to respond. Another way to go about this is to use the collective pronoun “we.” Shifting to this point of view aims to demonstrate that both leader and subordinate are on the same team. 

Similarly, rewording issues as questions would elicit a better response.

For example, instead of saying “The proposal failed because you didn’t consider my contingency plan,” the employee should instead ask, “How do we measure success when establishing ties with new partners?”

Ask for Feedback

To finish the discussion, employees should also ask for feedback in return. This not only allows them equal footing; it also stresses the objective of evaluations. 

At the end of the day, appraisals are platforms to discuss performances, allowing both employee and employer to reflect on their goals.

Focus on Solutions

Giving feedback shouldn’t end with clarifications but with solutions. Before heading into the manager’s office, employees should already prepare a bulleted list of resolutions. 

Presenting this to the employer demonstrates a commitment to the team, directing them to realign their mission with the rest of the company’s.

Finding an Appropriate Time

With that said, manager evaluations should be planned and discussed in person. We should note however that there are only specific times and places to provide feedback. 

Give Feedback When…

…the manager calls for a one-on-one meeting.

This set-up is appropriate as it allows both employer and employee to communicate more openly and away from prying ears.

…a performance evaluation is required.

Human resource departments usually lead monthly or annual appraisals to allow employees a chance to assess their manager’s performance.

…the manager asks for everyone’s thoughts after a meeting.

However, employees need to make sure whether the feedback is for a specific point raised in the meeting before tackling the manager’s leadership style.

Don’t Give Feedback When…

…the whole company is in the room.

This just makes it uncomfortable not only for the manager but also for everyone present.  This would be embarrassing for the boss since their credibility would be placed on the line. But it would also be embarrassing for the employee as it shows a lack of tact.

…emotions are at their peak.

Sometimes, employees are quick to pipe up when they disagree with a manager during a meeting. But it’s important for the employee to calm down and wait for the meeting to finish before bringing up a concern.  Again, manager evaluations require careful thinking so employees need to check their emotions first.