Can your boss take the truth?

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Your boss is bullying people in meetings, making them less likely to contribute.

She rarely acknowledges a team’s accomplishments.

She talks about other people’s ideas without giving them credit.

Is it possible to give feedback to your boss in a way that improves her performance as a leader? Or is it better to keep quiet than put your relationship at risk?

John Baldoni, a leadership consultant and author of Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up, says that the higher up a manager is, the harder it is for her to get honest feedback. So, frank feedback becomes a valuable gift for a leader who wants to improve.

The ability to give upward feedback is dependent on the relationship between you and your boss. Without trust, the feedback will be impossible to receive.

Tips for giving upward feedback:

Gauge how receptive your boss will be. If you have a rocky relationship or you suspect she will react negatively, it’s better not to say anything.

But, “If your boss is open-minded and you have a good relationship, you owe her the straight talk,” Baldoni says.

Listen for a cue. Ideally, you might decide to broach the topic because your boss has asked you to keep an ear out for how the staff is feeling, or she specifically asks for your input. Baldoni says, “In a perfect world, it is a manager’s responsibility to make it safe to give feedback.”

Ask if she is receptive to feedback. In the context of a new project, for example, you might ask, “Would it be helpful to you for me to give you feedback at certain points in this project?” or “I’m likely to have a unique perspective on what we’re doing, so would you like some feedback about how the project is going?”

Focus on your perspective and specific, data-driven observations, if your boss is receptive to feedback. That helps your boss see how others see her.

For example, “I noticed at the meeting that you raised your voice at least three times during the discussion. I observed that people clammed up after that point.”

Tip: Remember that you only see a partial picture of your boss’s performance. You may not fully appreciate what she faces. Stick to what you can see.

Be prepared for defensiveness. Even if you word it carefully, your feedback may draw ire. It could be that your boss welcomes feedback in certain areas but not others. React to her negative response by asking what would be useful going forward. Make it clear that your only intention is to help her.

When in doubt, hold your tongue. Not sure whether she can take what you have to say? There’s no reason to risk your working relationship. Instead, seek out an anonymous way to give feedback, such as a 360-degree feedback process.

— Adapted from “How to Give Your Boss Feedback,” Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review.

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