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At some time or another, you will feel annoyed, irritated, aggravated, anxious or betrayed by your boss. When that happens, should you let them know, with a goal of improving your future relationship? Or should you suck it up and hope they transfer elsewhere to terrorize someone else? The answer (perhaps not surprisingly) is “It depends.”

It depends on honest answers to these three questions.

  • Are you sure you are not blowing the situation out of proportion? Does this happen repeatedly or is it a one-time occurrence in difficult circumstances? Even bosses are entitled to have bad days.
  • Is there a possibility of change? If you raise the situation respectfully, and in a way that minimizes the likelihood of defensiveness, is there a greater than 50-per-cent chance your boss will do things differently next time?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs? In other words, how important is this to you? Is a conversation likely to improve things, or will it contribute to a deterioration in your relationship?

If the answer to even one of these questions is “no,” you might want to bite your tongue and find an alternate – trusted – person and vent to them. But if all three answers are “yes,” then you should give negative feedback to your boss. But it needs to be done with tact and finesse.

The first thing to keep in mind is to have the conversation as soon as possible after the event prompting it. The longer you wait, the more it will fade into the recesses of your manager’s mind, and the lesser the likelihood of a positive outcome for you.

The conversation should always be in private; this is not a dialogue to have in a public setting. Schedule 15 minutes in your boss’s calendar. It not only ensures privacy, but it also demonstrates that you consider this subject to be important. Title the meeting “Feedback on yesterday’s sales meeting,” rather than something vague like “Update.”

Ideally, you want to speak to them in person. If face-to-face is not possible, then choose a video chat. Don’t use the phone unless you have no choice; the loss of visual signals does not create the best environment for this type of dialogue.

Spend some time thinking about what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. It is a good idea to script it out. Not because you will read from the script (that would be weird), but because the writing process will force you to be articulate about what it is you want to convey.

Start with gratitude – thank them for their time and willingness to listen to you. Then ask for permission to continue. Assuming you get it (you likely will), specificity is now important. Be prepared to outline what happened, when it happened and what its impact was on you. While it’s okay to talk about the impact on you personally, be sure to focus on the work implications. Be outcome-oriented – offer a possible resolution to the issue.

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With these pointers in mind, here is an example of a possible conversation.

“Thanks for making the time to talk to me. There has been something on my mind that’s been bothering me since our meeting with the sales team yesterday, and I’d like to run it past you. Is that okay?”

Wait for their response. Assuming you get the nod, continue.

“While I was presenting the market research to the sales team, I noticed that you jumped in half a dozen times to respond to questions that they asked. I realize you probably did that to be helpful. I was prepared for those questions though, and I lost the opportunity to build credibility with them. As you know, they’ve been skeptical since the beginning about the support I can provide since I am new to the industry, and times like this are my chance to show them what I’m capable of. I also want to demonstrate my skills to you. Next time, would it be okay if I took first crack at fielding those types of questions?”

Pause. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their response. But even if it’s not what you wanted to hear, at least you said your piece in a way that isn’t likely to deteriorate your future relationship.

Be sure to close on a positive note.

“I’m glad we talked about this. I was nervous about having this conversation, so I appreciate your willingness to listen.”

The best possible outcome of giving negative feedback to your boss is that their future behaviour will change. But choosing whether or not to do so should be a carefully considered decision.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker, author, mentor to senior leaders and the chief executive officer of the leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.

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