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

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This is the last in a series of articles designed to help you give feedback to your manager. In the previous articles, we discussed the previous steps:

1. Setting up a performance log

2. Giving positive reinforcement of the  behaviors you believe are good

3. Contracting with your manager to give feedback on improvement

4.  Previewing the conversation with HR

5. Preparing for giving the feedback.

Yes, it’s a lot of work to get to this point.  But hopefully you’ve discovered that the very act of doing the previous steps will a) Actually solve problems you’re experiencing already and b) keep you focused on what areas you’d like to give feedback.

Today, I’ll provide you some phrases to help you perform the feedback discussion on behaviors you’d like to change in your boss.

1. The setup

Here you want to ease into the conversation with your boss based on your preparation.  The more you are focused on the intent (provide feedback) and result (better results), the better the setup will be:

“I’d like to provide some feedback to you in regards to what happened last week.  Is this a good time?”

2. The context

Here you want to set the context of what you are providing feedback on.

“It’s in regards to the meeting we were in, and I was presenting to the steering committee the results from last quarter, and you were there to support me.”

3. The second setup: Framing of the discussion as strategic

Here you want to throw in a second setup.  You’re framing the feedback as an opportunity for a strategic discussion for how things could go better in the future.  It can be phrased in the spirit of partnership:

“I’d like to talk through how we can make sure things go better in the future, and I’d like to share my ideas on how this can go better.”

4. Cite the observed behavior

As discussed in the previous article, you want to discuss only one behavior, and a strategically chosen one at that.  Cite the specific behavior that you observed and use behavior-based language that focuses on what the manager did:

“When I was presenting the results, I saw that you were checking the email instead of watching the presentation.  I also noticed that members of the steering committee were watching you check your email and were looking at me in a way that suggested I should do something about this.”

5. Determine if there is agreement of the facts

Your manager may dispute this happened at all.  But if it was specifically observed, this is less likely.  If the manager does not agree that this happened, do not despair.

First, you can rephrase it in even more objective terms:

“I observed you on more than one occasion looking at your computer and not looking up.”

Second, you can then say that it is the perception:

“It was my perception that you were looking at the computer and the effect was that you weren’t paying attention to the presentation.  I got signals from the other people in the room that this was the case as well.”

Third, if the manager stays in denial of the actual behavior, then you can do the end-around that gets the performance feedback across:

“Oh, so you weren’t looking at your computer, making it appear that you weren’t paying attention?  Oh, good, them I’m relieved!  Because that is what I walked away thinking.  Then I guess that this isn’t an issue.”

At the very minimum, this increases the awareness (however slightly) that the manager’s behavior is being observed, and that it may have consequences.  The alternative behavior (paying attention) is implied already.  Now move on to the next issue and drop this one.  You have gotten your point out enough, and the manager could very well change behavior.  You have your log!

6. Cite the perceived impact

Assuming the manager actually agrees to having engaged in the behavior you observed, you can cite the perceived impact (not the actual impact).  That is, share your perspective of the impact, don’t assert the actual impact.

“As a result, it was my perception that the impact of this was that you weren’t supportive or interested in the proposal and that we weren’t in the room proposing it together, lessening our case to the steering committee.”

7. Ask for suggestions for what to do differently

Here you can ask what the manager suggest happens differently in the future, in the spirit of improved collaboration and a focus on intended results.  The more behavior-based your feedback has been, the alternative behavior should be suggested by the manager.  Note the usage of “we” and offering to the manager to come up with the ideas for what the behaviors should be next time:

“I was wondering if you had any ideas for how we can do presentations in the future so that both you and I appear to be on the same page and fully supportive of the presentation?”

You may expect the manager to say, “I get it, I won’t check messages when you’re presenting.”  Or, the manager could actually suggest options that you may not have anticipated:  “Perhaps I should not attend anymore.”  “Perhaps I should email the committee beforehand that I’m very supportive of the proposal, and I trust that you’ll do a great job in getting our ideas across.”

After all, the strategies that come out may actually be better than you anticipated! If you can actually turn this into a strategy session for having better presentations, then you’re doing very well in giving feedback to your manager!

8. Resolve what the new behavior is and don’t pile on

Now that you have accomplished your strategic effort to change your manager’s behavior, and perhaps even improved the situation (don’t we wish!), don’t start thinking you can now express every other grievance you may have with your manager.  If there are other things about your manager’s behavior you’d like to change, go back to your log, strategize on what the next thing is, and approach it carefully, just like you did here.

“Cool, so when you attend the meetings, we’ll make sure that we are both focused on the presentation and showing full support for the ideas behind them.”

9. Reinforce the new behavior

Let’s say that the manager actually improves the behaviors you’ve worked so hard to help change.  Please praise these behaviors using specific and immediate behavior-based language.  You can do this immediately after the incident:

“I saw that you were totally focused on the presentation and made supportive points to help overcome some of the resistances of the steering committee.  That really helped and I appreciate the teamwork that we had in this meeting.”

So there are examples and phrases for providing feedback to your manager, assuming you’ve worked your way to that moment.

What have you done to give feedback to your manager?  How did it go?  Did the manager’s behavior actually change?

For you management designers out there – how can you help employees get to the point where they can provide quality feedback to their managers – and that managers receive it well?

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

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

How to give feedback to your manager: Some possible openings

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

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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 .

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