Relationships between managers and their employees are constantly changing as organizations are losing their hierarchical structure and becoming flatter. This flatness opens up communication and creates an honest, reciprocal network of feedback. Giving feedback to your manager can still feel risky and nerve-wracking, even in an increasingly flatter workplace.

While giving constructive criticism to your manager can feel uncomfortable, it can be necessary, particularly if what your manager is doing impacts your job or your personal wellbeing. Taking proper precautions and steps can prepare you to give frank, respectful feedback to your manager.

What is upward feedback?

It may not seem like managers want to receive feedback, but a Workleap study found that 65% of employees want more feedback, and your manager is an employee as well. Critical feedback is an important aspect of employee and company growth. It creates a network of open communication, which fosters a positive company culture.

Many are familiar with downward feedback, where managers give key insights into their employee's performance. Upward feedback occurs when employees give feedback to their manager. This type of feedback can be crucial to managers as it gives them awareness of how their decisions are perceived by employees, what changes to make to benefit the company and how to improve as a manager.

Steps on how to give feedback to your manager

Whether you are wanting to address your workload, a particular incident that occurred or a general pattern you have witnessed, following these steps can take away some of the anxieties of giving feedback to your manager:

1. Find an appropriate time and place

Receiving criticism in a room full of people can feel like a personal attack. A one-on-one conversation creates an opportunity for open communication. Schedule a time with your manager to discuss the feedback you plan to share. If your manager has done something that upsets you or disrupts your normal workflow, don't put off bringing it up with them for too long. Addressing issues in a timely manner allows problems to be addressed without giving time for animosity to grow.

2. Prepare statements and questions in advance

Planning out what you want to address and how you want to address it in advance can take away a lot of anxiety. When delivering constructive criticism, focusing on the facts and steering clear of emotional language will help to convey your intentions in a nonconfrontational manner. If you are worried about how your manager will receive criticism, using questions to deliver feedback can soften the blow and allow for a better flow of communication.

3. Focus on finding solutions and remaining positive

Approach the discussion with a focus on finding solutions instead of just identifying problems. By focusing on future outcomes, you can prevent your manager from focusing on the things you feel they did wrong and create a team-player atmosphere instead. If you have something to share that may be hard-to-swallow for your manager, think about sandwiching the complaint between two affirmations. It can be easier to hear one thing you did wrong when you hear about two things you did right.

4. Be patient

It can be difficult to receive criticism. Allow your manager some time to let your feedback sink in. They are likely to recognize the behavior or situation you brought up the next time it occurs and adjust their response accordingly. It is likely that your manager has information they aren't sharing with you. Some of their decisions might not make sense without that information, which can be frustrating for employees who don't get the opportunity to see the whole picture. If this is the case, give your manager time to explain and try to see the situation from their point of view.

What to do if your manager responds to feedback with hostility?

Not everyone responds to criticism in the same way. If your manager responds with hostility, try to remain calm and respectful. Be prepared to answer any questions they may have with facts and refrain from using emotional language.

Nevertheless, it is important to be able to recognize when a situation has become out-of-hand. If your manager's hostility verges on unethical or breaches any legal boundaries, seek help from human resources or a higher-ranking manager.

Organizations with feedback thrive

Although providing feedback to your manager can feel stressful and potentially awkward, it will be beneficial for both you and your manager. Your manager takes away key information that can help them improve as a leader, while you are able to better communicate your needs as an employee. Communication allows people to reach solutions and grow as individuals and as a company.