Telling the person who can take your job away how you really feel can be downright terrifying.
The fear is understandable. We’re told from a very young age to respect and defer to authority figures. But upward feedback, when given tactfully, isn’t about criticism or blame. It’s about suggesting a change that will make the workplace better – and that kind of feedback should be considered a gift.
Upward feedback is a crucial part of creating two-way communication, which increases employee engagement and makes teams more productive. Simply put, when employees speak up, companies benefit.
So what can we do to take the spookiness out of giving your big, scary boss your honest opinion?
Know the situation inside and out
Here’s a nightmare scenario.
You tell your boss what you really think about something, they look at you and
say: "Um, actually…”
Psyching yourself up to give upward feedback only to find out you were wrong all along is a legitimate fear. This is why it’s important to know the situation well and consider every angle. Try and empathize with other stakeholders to make sure you aren’t missing anything, and ask lots of questions.
Be receptive to pushback, but don’t be a pushover
Stand up to that monster under your bed.
One reason you might fear upward feedback is the pushback you could (or in your scared state of mind, will definitely) receive.
With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that it’s okay for you to be wrong. That doesn’t mean you should back down immediately if your feedback turns into a debate. Be prepared to defend your point, but recognize that even if you lose the debate, you’ll gain valuable knowledge and insight. Plus, your manager will respect you more for voicing your opinion but being open to other ideas.
Timing is everything
When giving upward feedback, you need to make sure you’re not bringing an old issue back from the dead. It’s always best to give feedback in a timely fashion.
Feedback is only useful if it can make actionable change, and why would you want to wait to make that change? The sooner constructive feedback gets out in the open, the sooner negative behaviors can be corrected. Plus, it can be jarring to receive constructive feedback too long after the event being addressed. It surprises you like a bat out of hell!
When considering the timing of constructive feedback, remember to carpe diem, or seize the day. You don’t often get the perfect opening to give feedback, so if an opportunity comes around, take advantage of it.
Conflict is not something to be scared of
We have a natural aversion to conflict. Just ask any of the victims from your favorite slasher flick (yes, Halloween is your favorite. This isn’t a discussion).
But conflict is not something to shy away from. It’s going to happen no matter what, so it’s best to not avoid it. Instead, embrace and control it.
It makes sense for us to fear conflict because it’s often associated with scary things like physical confrontation, damage to personal relationships and creating awkward situations. But conflict should simply be thought of as a way of resolving differing points of view.
The key is to make the conflict into a conversation, not a fight. Focus on specific behaviors you’ve observed and not personal attributes. You’ll find that conflict can actually be quite productive.
Recognize that your input could be valuable
Part of your anxiety about giving upward feedback could stem from a lack of confidence. You need to remember that you were hired for a reason, and it wasn’t to get axed for making your ideas known.
Be confident, have an opinion and recognize that no one is perfect (that’s probably true about you too, but in this case, remember it as being about your manager). You were hired to contribute to your team. If you want to make a positive impact in your organization don’t be a ghost: make your opinion heard.
Remember that even your manager could be spooked by the idea of giving performance feedback. By giving upwards feedback, you’ll break down barriers and gain trust. There is an element of vulnerability required on both parts. But as long as your team can have open discussions up and down the corporate ladder, your engagement and business outcomes will be all treats and no nasty tricks.