The Right Way to Give Negative Feedback to Your Manager

The Right Way to Give Negative Feedback to Your Manager

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Your boss hasn’t set expectations or boundaries about the projects you have in progress.

Sometimes, you feel like you’re giving her too much information about your work is going; other times, you don’t check in with each other for weeks. Either way, the ambiguity in this aspect of her managerial style is making you feel less competent in your work. 

Or perhaps you have a different kind of manager. He is very political, and he brings his opinions to work. Though you agree with him, you still think he’s being inappropriate. You just feel uncomfortable discussing politics in the workplace. 

These are just two examples of bosses who impede your success in one way or another. While it can be uncomfortable to critique your superiors, sometimes you just can’t live with their behavior. Whether they’re hindering your success or creating an uncomfortable workplace culture, it’s important to be able to talk to your supervisor if you have an issue with their behavior. 

Your manager may even be grateful that you’re articulating what doesn’t work for you about their style. 

“After all, [the negative feedback] may not be a surprise to the recipient, and bringing difficulties out into the open can create a productive dialogue. Negative feedback given positively can be enabling, helping someone stop making mistakes and providing them with the training and support needed,” said Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D.

Here, we’ll discuss the right way to give negative feedback to your manager.


✅ Structure the introduction appropriately so they know what to expect.

You don’t want to dump your critique on your manager at the wrong time or place.

So, you should schedule a one-on-one meeting and let them know what you want to discuss. For example, you could say, “I want to discuss the deadlines and parameters we’ve set up for my projects.” 

Next, you want to plan how you want to begin the conversation. The best strategy is to share something you appreciate about your manager before clearly articulating what you want out of this conversation. 

Tijs Besieux of Harvard Business Review shares a sample conversation starter for a difficult conversation like this one: 

“I really appreciate you taking the time to hear me out. There’s something on my mind from our last team meeting. I wanted to let you know how it made me feel because I think honesty is important for us to maintain a strong relationship. Would that be okay with you?”

The last sentences here are called a “proceed by agreement,” in which you ask your manager for permission before continuing on with the conversation.


✅ Focus on how the behavior impacts your feelings, not on how they’re coming across.

After you introduce the topic you want to discuss, explain how the behavior makes you feel.

Centering the conversation on yourself, rather than talking about how your manager’s habits are wrong or bad in some way, is always better. Even if you think their habits are bad or wrong, supervisors are more likely to accept feedback that’s about you rather than about them. What’s more, they can read between the lines. 

So, talk about you and your feelings. Try constructing your ideas with the phrases, “When you did [something], and it makes me feel [a certain way].” 

Be as specific as possible, ideally mentioning a particular time and place when your manager behaved in an off-putting way. Rather than saying, “When you ALWAYs do [something…” (which sets up your manager to combat you with “I don’t ALWAYS do that”), say, “In Monday’s meeting, you made me feel undervalued when you credited Kelly and Meredith for the project but didn’t mention my contributions.”

Avoid adding judgments about how they did something (“You were mean when you…“) or why (“you didn’t include me so you could show me who was in charge”), as well.


✅ Talk about options that would improve the problem better and ask them to weigh in.

Once you’ve told your manager what you don’t like about their behavior, then transition into discussing strategies that would make you feel more supported. Again, frame the issue as your problem rather than theirs. 

For instance, if your boss doesn’t set clear parameters about how and when they would like to connect with you, make suggestions. For instance,

“I would love to set up regular appointments on Mondays at noon via Zoom. We could talk for 30 minutes about my progress on Project A. I could ask questions, and you could give me feedback. That way, I would feel more secure that I was moving in the right direction.” 

Before you conclude the conversation, ask for their feedback on the improvement you’ve proposed. For instance, in the scenario above, you could ask them if another time might work better or if they’d rather use an alternative platform. 

“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,” suggested Vu Nguyen Ky for Grove HR.


How to Give Negative Feedback to Your Manager


Giving negative feedback to your manager can be touchy.

You want to encourage them to correct their behavior without offending them. What’s more, you want to couch your criticism in positives without your manager feeling like you’re actually complimenting them instead. 

The advice above should give you peace of mind when confronting your manager about their less-than-ideal habits. Certainly, you only want to have conversations like these when your supervisor’s behavior is really hindering your performance or comfort. 

Need more ideas for effectively critiquing your boss? Read these two surefire phrases to use. Share a sample conversation starter.

Alicia Bones
About the Author
Alicia Bones

Alicia Bones is a freelance writer and community college professor in Seattle.

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