When you think of feedback in the workplace, you’re likely to picture receiving advice, criticism or praise from your manager. However, it is not always a one way street. Several situations may occur that will require you to provide feedback to your coworkers or even your boss. Although it might not be an easy task, it may be necessary, so it is important to understand some of the key factors when giving feedback to your colleagues and superiors. Read on to find out some of the best ways to approach these situations.
Before jumping into anything, you should take a look at the relationship you have with the person in question, especially if it’s your boss. Your relationship could be affected by a number of factors – did that person refer you to the company, or were you brought on through a staffing agency? Have you been working with them for 10 years or did you start last week? Regardless of the severity of your feedback, the person must be receptive and trusting if it’s going to have a positive effect. If not, the result will more than likely be negative and will cause your relationship and the situation to be worse than when you started. However, if the person is open to constructive criticism and willing to listen, then go for it – just remember to approach with caution.
If it’s not necessary, try to avoid it unless specifically asked. You might be wondering why, especially if you have a good relationship with the individual. Unfortunately, that does not always make a big difference. Even if you’re close with someone that is usually open-minded, it does not mean that they want to hear your opinion on their performance or behavior. If you feel it is absolutely necessary, directly ask if they would like feedback on a particular subject, and be sure to frame it in a non-threatening manner. Never say, “If I were you, I would…” because no one wants to be told how to do their job. On the other hand, some managers and even coworkers will ask how you think they are doing in a particular area. This is a great opportunity to provide constructive feedback, but again, be respectful.
This may sound like a “no brainer” to some, but it is crucial when giving feedback. Often times it is easy to get caught up in the moment, and you’ll want to start making several suggestions for change. Whether it’s based on something you’ve done before or something new that you believe will work, it’s important to make sure that the changes are even possible. If you’re focusing on a process change rather than a particular behavior, you’re more likely to run into a situation where your manager has insight on budget or scope that you don’t know about. Do your research first and ask questions before spewing out proposals that may not be possible.
It may be particularly difficult to focus on the positives rather than the negatives when giving unsolicited feedback to your boss or colleague. However, this is a good way to ease into the constructive criticism. Additionally, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. For example, phrasing it as, “Your guidance on this project was really helpful. Here’s where I could have learned more,” will be more welcomed than saying, “You did not give me sufficient information in this area.”
When you’re upset about a person’s behaviors or actions, it might be difficult not to let it build up to the point where you want to criticize several areas. However, this is not only confusing, but it could come off as an attack rather than a helpful discussion. When offering feedback, choose one issue that concerns you most and really focus on that. Stick to the facts of that particular subject and see how it goes. Additional concerns may be brought up in a future conversation if appropriate.
Not only should you only focus on one issue at a time, you must also focus on a specific situation. By picking a particular event, project or incident, your feedback will be taken more seriously, as it will be better understood and will show what you’re really concerned about. If you try to express concern about a general process or behavior, the person might be confused because you’re not providing examples for them to go off of. Examples are a great way to get the recipient to understand where you’re coming from.
This method is especially important when it comes to your boss because his or her primary concern should be the business. If you frame your feedback in terms of what your boss is concerned about, he or she will be more likely to take it seriously and want to improve. Additionally, providing specific examples of how a lack of change will affect a client or the business should motivate prompt action.
The best way to give criticism to others is to focus on you. This does not mean focusing on what you want or how you would do something, it means making a suggestion and providing options for how you can help make the change. Do not put it all on your boss or coworker; recommend working as a team to improve in a particular area, and come up with roles for each member. This will make the feedback seem like less of an attack and more of a proposal for overall process improvement.
While the above tips are a good stepping off point, just remember that your approach will greatly depend on the personality of your boss and coworkers, as well as your current relationship with them. If you’re unsure of what the results may be, take a step back to reevaluate the situation and what you hope to accomplish. If you still feel uncertain and it’s not worth risking your job over, it’s better to hold off until you’re asked.
Theresa Boruta is a content developer for Staffing Now interested in the topics of career development and networking. She’s constantly on the look out for insightful articles on career advice. She’s a strong believer in being a lifelong student- always looking to gain knowledge and push for continued success.
Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.