How to Give Your Manager Negative Feedback in a Positive Way

A guide on how employees can effectively provide negative feedback on team performance to their managers.

April 20, 2023
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Ever been in one of those sticky situations where you need to give unpleasant feedback to a manager? It could be due to you needing to catch up on their assigned task. Or when their actions put you in a compromising position. Or even microaggressions towards you at work that hamper working relationships. 

The typical feedback examples are usually from managers to an employee. The reverse is an aspect of workplace communication that is seldom talked about but is just as crucial because feedback is a necessary tool for growth. 

So, how do you give unpleasant feedback to your manager without leaving them offended or belittled? 

In this piece, we'll explore the best strategies for positively relaying negative performance feedback to your manager and give examples to get you started.

What To Consider Before Giving Negative Feedback To Your Manager

  1. Be sure that it’s an issue worth addressing.

As much as you may feel aggrieved over an incident or consider it severe enough to discuss with your manager, take a moment to weigh its severity.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it a one-off event? 
  • Will it re-occur in the future? 
  • Is this behavior because of their position or due to their character?
  • Have you noticed or heard of them acting in such a manner with others
  • Is it an issue that outrightly violates your company’s rules? Like harassment, assault, falsification? (HR should handle such matters instead.)

  1. Consider the cost of not relaying the feedback to your manager.

Another pulse check is to consider what could go wrong now and later if the issue is not addressed soon.

If it’s a sensitive topic that can cause resentment, addressing it as soon as possible is essential. 

  1. Get your timing right.

The timing of your message can determine its impact on the recipient. So, schedule a meeting beforehand to get your manager in the right frame of mind. 

In an office setting, respectfully approach them and ask for their most convenient time to discuss an issue. Avoid boxing them in a corner and expecting them to listen. 

Also, give them an idea of what your feedback will be on. Such as: 

  1. Decide on the right communication channel.

Not all employee feedback for managers requires a face-to-face discussion. You can use feedback forms or anonymous feedback tools to kill the awkwardness. 

  1. Be adequately prepared. 

Get all the facts you need, and rehearse your words beforehand to ensure your tone is appropriate and not spiteful. Think of possible responses and counterpoints and how you’ll respond if it’s not going as planned. 

You should back down if it turns into a heated conversation and inform the HR officer to step in if the behavior persists.

How Do You Give Negative Feedback To Your Boss Examples

While it's important to be specific with future feedback and go straight to the point, cushioning unfavorable feedback is essential so they don't feel attacked. You can begin with a compliment or ask about their day.

There are different situations where you may need to know how to give your boss negative feedback or receive negative feedback. Let's explore some examples and how to navigate them.

  • When favoritism over others towards you can jeopardize your work.
  • When your manager’s guidance/advice is inadequate or unhelpful, and it’s affecting your productivity. 
  • When they use threatening language or exhibit behavior that affects your job, such as Micro-aggressions or rude comments.
  1. On favoritism - Favoritism over others towards you that can jeopardize your work.

“The past few times that team members have brought on significant clients that everyone on our sales team would like to take on, you decided to give them all to Jane.

This reduces the opportunities for myself and some other team members to learn and grow. I would appreciate it if you throw more light on why you have chosen this method of assigning.

  1. On lack of guidance - When your manager’s guidance/advice is inadequate or unhelpful.

“This is an entirely new subject matter for me, and I still need help. I would appreciate extra guidance in the xyz aspect to ensure I’m on the right track. 

Although I’m spending time researching the subject, I would still appreciate more help than usual from you as I know you have a wealth of experience in that area.”

  1. On using threats and insults

“I appreciate your feedback on my recent performance and agree with you on my need to collaborate with other team members to promptly reach my sales goals. I will start working on the tasks today. 

In the future, I would appreciate you providing candid and constructive feedback without threats. I value the whole team's success and am motivated to work with everyone to reach our goals. However, I believe the threats are unnecessary and counterproductive to our goals.”

How Do You Positively Give Negative Feedback?

You wouldn't want to have a situation where a boss never gives positive feedback to you, so make sure you also provide negative feedback in a positive way to them. Managers who know how to give effective negative feedback to employees adopt different frameworks for getting it right. But for upward feedback, EEC is our preferred manager feedback tool.

There are different scenarios for both giving negative feedback positively and receiving negative feedback positively. Here are two examples:

  1. When you need to provide unpleasant news or report a task to your manager

Here, offer a glimmer of hope despite the unfavorable feedback. It gives your manager fewer worries and something to applaud you for. 

For example:

“Last week, the report from our Q1 campaign came in. We missed our goal of hitting 10,000,000 viewers, but we got 75% of that figure. Plus, a sister brand just reached out with the possibility of a partnership.”

If there are no extra positive remarks, highlight the learnings from the unpleasant situation. 

  1. When your manager’s help or advice yielded unfavorable results

Understand that being a manager is often a thankless role as everyone focuses on the impact rather than the trials and errors of getting there. So, you can start with some appreciation.

For example:

“While working on the slide deck yesterday, I noticed you sent six follow-up emails concerning my work. While I appreciate your desire to guide me through, your constant check-ins had me working under pressure.”

How Do You Give Negative Feedback Without Offending Anyone?

The simple rule for giving meaningful feedback, especially negative feedback across all levels, even more so at work, is to be respectful and professional and communicate directly. Here are three broad ways to share your critical feedback:

  1. Ask your manager to shed more light on the issue
  2. Ask for the history of the initiative or the thoughts behind a decision
  3. Lay down your options and ask for your manager’s inputs

With your manager, it’s essential to take extra care to get the correct facts beforehand and seek guidance on the issue from a third party—preferably the HR team. It could also be a friend or a higher-ranking colleague. 

How Do You Give Positive, Negative, And Constructive Feedback?

Since employee feedback examples are similar to manager feedback, the same technique applies with slight adjustments. 

  • Giving positive feedback to managers

Be specific about the areas they helped you and the impact of their help. This shows authenticity rather than an attempt to massage the egos and get on their good sides. 

  • Giving negative feedback to managers

It’s essential to be specific but respectful. Keep it factful, stay non-accusatory, and maintain a positive outlook. 

You can lead with empathy and appreciation, then be clear on the incident you’d like to report. Ending with a way forward will show your eagerness to move on from the situation and not shame them. 

  • Giving constructive feedback to managers 

Diplomacy is crucial when offering constructive feedback. Use the “sandwich method” by opening with praise, proceeding with the bad aspects, and wrapping up with a solution. 

How Do You Tell Your Boss They Are The Problem?

Refer to the most specific examples of instances where they were the problematic party. You can say:

“I understand you meant well when you asked me to do XYZ, but after implementing your idea, I noticed we’re not getting the expected results. I’m hoping we can brainstorm an alternative to help us progress on the project?”

Following up with a solution or showing an alternative you’re already working on can soften the criticism. It also shows you’re not interested in throwing blame and are solution-oriented. 

Why Your Manager Needs Negative Feedback From You

Effective employee feedback helps managers boost employee engagement and performance, whether negative or positive. Here's how:

  1. Enhances Their Professional Growth

Your manager may have great technical skills, but their leadership skills may need some finetuning, which negative feedback will address. Who’s in a better position to do this for them than you, who works directly under them? 

So, if better communication and empathy from accepting and giving feedback get the required results, it's a win. Your willingness to give feedback despite its unpleasantness also shows interest in their growth, especially if a solution accompanies it.

  1. Improves Working Relationship Between Managers And Employees

Effective feedback touches on important issues in ways that mindlessly thrown compliments cannot. 

So, having difficult conversations with your superiors can be awkward, but it will improve your working relationship in the long run.

  1. Great For Character Development In Both Parties. 

It’s a plus when you can share unpleasant sentiments with your manager in an assertive but respectful manner. It earns you their respect, as they’d rather you come to them with your grievances than gossip about it. 

It will also be a test for accountability and responsibility, which they, as leaders, should embody. Remember this when you are a boss as well and might need help on how to handle negative feedback as a leader.

Make Negative Feedback to Makanger Into Constructive Feedback Assembly

While it's easy to become focused on the negative aspects of any situation, that isn't what will genuinely benefit your own team's performance, or your company moving forward.

The best way to give negative feedback is to come from a place of care and concern for your manager and team and to communicate the problem positively. It's essential to offer solutions, too. 

Managers are humans, too, and it's pertinent to note that they may get defensive at the employee feedback. And things may not go as planned. 

This is why you'll need Assembly's manager feedback template. It allows you to handle crucial conversations with your manager and deliver negative feedback without breaking into sweats or obsessing about how it can go wrong. 

Give effective and constructive criticism with Assembly. Book a Demo today!

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