There are lots of things to love about work. The challenge. The relationships. The satisfaction of a job well done. But there are also roadblocks, and sometimes, getting through them starts with open conversations.
Maybe you made a mistake on a project, interrupted someone during a meeting, or missed the mark on a deadline. Your manager might give you feedback on what to improve. Sometimes, the tables turn, and your manager could benefit from a conversation about something they should work on.
Giving them effective feedback is intimidating and sometimes uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary process for creating a better workplace. It can improve your relationship and help both of you perform better on the job.
The way you deliver feedback and constructive criticism can make the whole process easier, and planning ahead can also make you feel more confident. Start by learning how to give negative feedback to your manager through examples.
What’s negative feedback?
Negative feedback is any comment about a negative topic, including performance areas that need improvement.
You might already receive negative feedback from your manager in performance reviews or on the job, which could be about a mistake you made or something you could’ve done better. High-quality feedback, even if it’s negative, is constructive and starts a conversation about how you can improve.
According to a Gallup study, employees crave feedback, both positive and negative. Your boss likely feels the same way and would welcome your input if they knew they’d done something that needs improvement. But presenting feedback in the wrong way could lead to feelings of hurt.
In one survey, 80% of employees felt so badly after a review, they decided to look for a new job. To avoid making someone feel that way, it’s essential to weigh your words and how you say them.
Remember that the goal isn’t to be overly critical and make the person feel bad. You’re both working towards the same thing: a solid working relationship that benefits your team and the company overall. Your diction should reflect that.
Another factor to consider when offering feedback is the human tendency to remember negative situations and criticism more than positive praise. Psychologists label this phenomenon negativity bias.
There might be cognitive bias in your memory affecting your reaction, so give yourself space to think about the situation before bringing it up. You might be forgetting the positives, and positive feedback is just as important as the negative.
Whether it’s part of a performance review or brainstorming session, feedback should be a positive contribution to company culture. Your intent should be to create an opportunity for your manager to improve and grow while strengthening your relationship. And to do that, you need effective communication skills and the right approach.
Constructive versus negative feedback
Negative feedback has the potential to be just that: negative. Giving feedback isn’t an opportunity to air out past frustrations or complaints. It’s a chance to offer constructive criticism that helps your manager grow.
To be considered constructive, feedback to your manager should include:
An example of constructive feedback might be:
“I’ve been feeling like there are too many projects on my plate right now. I think more communication could avoid the problem. What if you authorize me to delegate some lower-priority tasks to junior team members to help lighten my load? I’m open to discussion.”
This feedback outlines the issue with a clear, time-bound example. Instead of blaming the manager for making the employee work too much, it focuses on the effects of that action, and it gives a suggestion for solving the problem.
When should you give feedback to your manager?
Give feedback to your manager at a designated time, like a one-on-one meeting. Select the timing based on your boss’ schedule, your relationship, and your feedback’s level of complexity.
It could only require a five-minute conversation, or it might need an hour of brainstorming to solve. Be realistic about how long it will take and find the right moment to bring it up.
Here are some more things to think about before you give feedback to your manager:
Consider your relationship
Think about your dynamic with your manager. They might be more receptive to feedback if you have a closer relationship or you’ve been working together for a long time.
If you’re a new employee or you’ve never given feedback before, you may need more time to establish the proper rapport to speak frankly to your manager. Try mentioning the problem to a coworker and ask if they can help you decide what to say and when.
Ask before offering
If you’re giving important feedback, you’ll want your manager’s full attention. Ask if they have time to speak with you before you offer feedback. That could be right after a meeting, at a designated time, or in your pre-established one-on-one. Find a time when they can listen to what you have to say without distractions.
Don’t forget to consider your boss’s wellness and capacity. If they’ve just left an important client meeting, or if they’re juggling a stressful week, wait for a calmer moment to talk to them.
And once you start the conversation, ask if they’re open to receiving feedback. Getting a concrete “yes” opens the floor for an honest discussion.
Emphasize the importance
If you’re offering critical feedback, whether it’s important to you personally or a specific task you’re both working on, make your manager aware of the fact. Highlighting the problem’s immediacy at the outset lets them prioritize the issue more effectively.
How to give negative feedback to your manager
If you’re not sure how to handle something or feel uncomfortable speaking to your manager, take your concerns to human resources (HR). This is a good step if you’ve already spoken to your manager but the problem continues, or if you’re facing workplace bullying and need to make a formal complaint.
But if the problem just needs a conversation to solve, here are some steps to give feedback.
1. Review the situation
In some cases, you might not need to give feedback at all. If something has only happened once, you could let it pass. Maybe your manager made a rude comment because they were having a bad day and it hasn’t happened again. But if repeated behavior affects your ability to work, you should discuss the situation.
Start laying the groundwork for a productive conversation. Ideally, book a time to discuss your concerns within a day or two while the details remain fresh in everyone’s minds. Advise your boss beforehand that you have some feedback so the meeting invite isn’t a surprise.
For example, you could say:
“I have some notes about our last production meeting. Do you have any availability this week?”
Once you have the affirmative, you can start planning what you want to say.
Sticking to a script when you’re feeling nervous can be challenging. Rehearse your feedback with a trusted friend, coworker, or mentor beforehand. Identify which points you want to emphasize and when to pause and allow your boss to respond.
Over time, you’ll build confidence in your presentation, which will help you keep a level head when you and your boss meet.
On the day of your one-on-one meeting, it’s okay to feel nervous. Try some deep-breathing exercises to help calm your mind before starting.
Start by explaining the issue and giving constructive feedback. Have some notes in front of you so you don’t forget important points. Remember that your manager might be feeling nervous too, and remind them that the goal of the conversation is to help you both grow.
If your boss gets defensive or angry, remember that you have the right to leave a situation that makes you feel unsafe. Apologize and respectfully end the meeting. Then you can approach HR about how best to move forward.
5. End with gratitude
If your manager has accepted your feedback or agreed to revisit the issue later, let them know you’re grateful for their time and support, whether right away or in a professional email later. Gratitude in the workplace boosts morale and strengthens working relationships, and it sets the tone for future feedback.
Real-world examples of negative feedback to a manager
If you’re unsure of what to say to your manager, these examples of negative feedback could help you successfully frame your response.
If your boss regularly rejects your input: “I noticed didn’t to consider my last three campaign ideas. How can I make my pitches more effective?”
If your boss has unrealistic expectations: “I have a lot on my plate right now. Can you help me prioritize, or is there some wiggle room on deadlines?”
If your boss is micromanaging you: “Sometimes I feel like you don’t trust my abilities. Are there steps I can take to show you my work and make you feel more confident, or is there anything I could improve?”
If your boss interrupts you in meetings: “In our last team meeting, I noticed that you interrupted me a few times, and I felt undermined.”
If your boss reacts poorly to your feedback: “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to criticize you. Can we chat about this more?”
Working toward a common goal
These examples of giving negative feedback to a manager can help you think through criticism and present it in the most productive way possible. Leaders should view employee feedback as an opportunity to improve their leadership skills and managerial style, and the way you present it should keep that goal in mind.
In a healthy work environment, giving negative feedback and constructive criticism to your boss will lead to a positive conversation that benefits everyone involved. Doing it the first time is intimidating, but with practice, you’ll help create a more open and positive relationship with your manager.