Step 3 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Ask how your manager prefers to receive feedback

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This is the latest in a series of articles designed to help employees give managers feedback about the manager’s behaviors as managers.  In previous articles, I describe how keeping a log on what the manager does helps you identify strategies for changing your own behavior, and when to give systematic, positive reinforcement.  The key to both of these is that you identify the specific behaviors that you’ve observed, rather than summarize the general behaviors, and this creates the ability to provide feedback that works at actually helping you manage your boss’s behavior.

In today’s article, I’ll provide some tips for how to approach a manager whose behavior you’d like to change for the better.   This is a more risky than providing positive feedback or changing your own behaviors (as discussed in previous articles), but sometimes it is necessary, because a manager who is doing things wrong can have a huge negative impact on the team, and typically only the employees are close enough to the situation to be able to correct it.  But how?

1. Ask your manager how and when he or she wants to receive feedback

At some point in your relationship with your manager, preferably earlier in the relationship, but any time works, ask your manager the following, “If I notice something that you do that I think could be done differently, do you want to receive that feedback?”  Most likely the answer is “Yes.”

It could happen that the manager then replies with, “Is there something that you want to tell me now?”

The answer you should have is “No.  Nothing now.  I just want to make sure there is a time and place for me to give you feedback on how things are working and if I notice any opportunities to do them differently.”  If you launch into feedback right away, then it won’t necessarily go well, unless you have a very emotionally mature manager – not a guarantee.  The point behind this conversation is to set it up for the time that you need to give feedback to a manager.

Then the next question to ask your manager is, “How should I go about it?  Should I set up a time to discuss this with you?”  It is preferable that you create a space (in the manager’s office?), time (during one-on-one meetings?) and format (in person?) where this could be done.  Once you have this protocol set up, then you are closer to having earned your way into being able to provide feedback to your manager.  If you break this protocol, such as, say, telling your manager right after a bad meeting where the manager did something to undermine your work, then this good work is going to be wasted.  So remember this protocol, and stick to it!

If your manager says that he or she doesn’t want to receive feedback from you, please note this!  This is a clue that providing feedback to your manager probably won’t go well, so this strategy may have to be dropped.   However, you can note this conversation in your log!

2. Keep a log that focuses on behavior-based language

I keep writing about keeping a log, but there is a reason for this!  Creating a log that tracks your manager’s behaviors is crucial to framing the information in a way that is more actionable and behavior-based, in addition to providing a therapeutic outlet for you during stressful times.   Finally, it keeps you from forgetting all of the crazy stuff that has happened, and instead of walking around with a general malaise of “I hate my boss (but I can’t remember all the stuff that made me conclude this—but there’s a lot of stuff, trust me”), you’re walking around with a specific record of “my boss interrupted my presentation on this date, on another date my boss did not assume positive intent on this date when he yelled in front of the group that I was late for the meeting again.”

So here are the things to keep in the log:

Item num-ber Date Name Title Con-text Ob-served be-havior Impact of observed behavior Preferred  behavior

3. Try to describe the preferred behavior in the log

As part of the log, when creating corrective feedback, you have to at least make an effort to document what you would prefer that the manager have said or done differently.  For example, in the scenario where the manager yells, “You’re late again,” you would prefer that the manager wait until after the meeting and ask with, with positive intent, “What was it that made you late?”   This can be hard to do, but you have to make an attempt to describe the positive behavior that you think would make it better.

4. Pick and choose wisely the things you want to start providing feedback on

In keeping a log, you will start to notice particular behaviors that repeat, and the more you track in the log, the more you can attempt to work out what the preferred alternative behavior is.  I would recommend that you do this for a little while to gear up to providing corrective feedback to a manager.  It should be focused on behaviors that you see a clear alternative to and could make a real difference in making your job more effective or productive – as these are things that (I hope!) align to both you and your manager.

5. Only provide feedback in those contexts you contracted for

In step one above, you have set up a contract that you would provide feedback to your manager in a particular context.  You need to remember what you agreed to, stick to it, and execute to what you agreed to.   If you don’t, then you have broken this contract, and the conversation won’t go well.

6. Ask if the manager is ready for the feedback

When you get to the point where you are in that context, you can introduce the conversation with, “We discussed a while back that you would like to receive feedback if I noticed something that you could do differently.  Is now a good time to talk about this?”  Only proceed if the manager says “Yes”.  If the manager says, “Later,” then drop it until later.  Don’t try to shoe-horn it in at that moment.  Be patient.  Then try again.  If this cycle continues and the manager defers, then the manager is not ready to receive feedback from you.  You can try again at a later date.  Instead, focus on reinforcing the positive behaviors and identifying non-feedback strategies for improving the manager’s behaviors.

In my next article, I’ll discuss one more step before having the actual performance feedback conversation with the manager:  Talk to Human Resources first.

Have you ever contracted with your manager to allow you to give him or her feedback?  How did it go?  Did you ever actually give the performance feedback to your manager?

Related articles:

Step 1 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare for it and you might get some insights

Step 2 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Reinforce the positive behaviors

Step 4 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Prepare by talking to Human Resources first

Step 5 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Identifying what the feedback is and when to give the feedback

Step 6 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Phrases to use during the feedback conversation

How about managers ask for feedback from their employees?

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 1)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 2)

How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 3)

Specific phrases and examples for how to ask for feedback from your employees

Employees leaving bad managers – what kind of actionable feedback does this provide the manager?

Can organizations use attrition rates to improve manager performance? It’s tough to do

Using surveys to provide feedback to a manager: How effective is this?

Managers giving managers feedback on managing: How well is this done?

How do employees give feedback to their manager?

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


3 Responses to “Step 3 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Ask how your manager prefers to receive feedback”
  1. Paul Kirch says:

    This is great feedback and I like the idea of the journal. I work with companies often helping them formulate better team environments and areas of colloboartion and synergy within an organization. I’m a huge fan of keeping a paper trail. There’s nothing more dangerous than relying soley on a phone conversation or face-to-face conversation without some sort of recap. Even if it’s a recap in a journal, such as you propose. I’ve seen numerous times where a he said/she said battle leaves an employee on the short end of a debate with a manager. Without a paper trail, it’s often the employee that will lose if it comes to a debate.

  2. Thanks for providing your experience on this, Paul! I think that many employees are concerned that their manager is keeping a paper trail on them — but they don’t consider documenting their own manager’s behaviors. It’s something that, at the very least, creates clarity of conversation when issues are being recalled and discussed.


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