We all know the feeling: Your supervisor does something that frustrates you, and you want to voice your opinion on how doing one simple thing differently could not only make life easier for her but also improve your work. However, many of us are hesitant to do so due to concerns about jeopardizing our relationship with them or diminishing our chances of career growth opportunities such as getting a raise or extra vacation time.
Could a feedback-happy working environment really lead to a more cheerful and productive workplace? Levo interviewed Millennials who have taken the courageous step of giving their opinion to their bosses, as well as career expert Vicki Salemi – author of Big Career in the Big City. Through these conversations, we learned when it is appropriate (and not so appropriate) for employees to provide suggestions or criticism toward those above them. Take heed of our wise words and take your career into your own hands!
On multiple occasions, Christine confidently provided her boss with feedback that she knew would enhance the quality of her work. For example, Christine would say, “It would help make this process easier if you did this, so I could do this.” Her boss wasn’t very receptive, but it did make their relationship feel more personal, and that did start to affect things. “She once asked me if I thought she deserved a promotion, and even if I thought she’d be a good mother one day,” says Christine. But her boss had a say in determining Christine’s year-end review, salary increase, and overall reputation, so she was afraid to say how uncomfortable it was making her. “I eventually learned that it would be more beneficial for me to keep my mouth shut and to do things differently myself, rather than try to give my boss feedback for her to change her actions.”
The expert weighs in:
“Just because your boss likes to discuss personal stuff doesn’t mean you have more freedom to give feedback around work. What you can do, however, is stick to the topic. The next time your boss asks if you’re going to move in with your boyfriend, be pragmatic and say something like, ‘I prefer to keep my personal life out of the office. Now, back to this report…’”
Avoiding a breakdown in communication between superiors and their subordinates is key to success. To ensure that her efficiency wasn’t compromised, Stephanie voiced her opinions on matters of workplace productivity to her boss. “I gave my senior manager feedback after the year-end busy season (accounting speak for the busiest time of the year). We discussed my learning style so he could better understand how to explain things to me more clearly, and I told him that I’d like to see examples of the work he wanted me to do.” Stephanie’s boss was open to her ideas for improving the efficiency of the learning process, demonstrating his commitment to making change. “He started implementing the feedback immediately, and it really helped us become less frustrated with one another.”
The expert weighs in:
“First, try leading by example—if you work well under tight deadlines, you can showcase this by hitting the ball out of the park when you’re working within time constraints.”
Field: Investment Banking
Contrary to what many people may think, the realities of the finance industry are largely accurate. “Finance is one of those environments where everyone thinks pretty highly of themselves and isn’t open to feedback from people below them,” Josh says. He’s seen great ideas get overlooked due to his manager being hesitant to accept guidance from someone of a lower position. Consequently, he has established an approach for acquiring his supervisor’s approval and willingness when it comes to considering and utilizing his feedback. “The best way to give feedback is to ask a question that leads them to the answer you want them to arrive at. It’s literally like a movie—you have the idea, but you need to make it seem like they had the idea to protect the relationship,” he says. Josh has found that by utilizing more polite language and inquiring rather than simply suggesting, he is able to gain better outcomes. To illustrate, when presented with the task of computing recurrent and non-recurrent outlays for a certain business entity, Josh opted to inquire instead of making a strong suggestion. He had a different way to find the results that would be more efficient, so instead of directly saying his manager was wrong, he said, “Has anyone ever looked at it this way?” His supervisor was extremely receptive to the idea and thus had to make a final call on whether or not to pursue it.
The expert weighs in:
“The key here is remembering this is a long-term relationship and you need to do the best you can to become your boss’s ally—make him or her look good, otherwise your work life can potentially be miserable.”
Side note: Whenever you find yourself disagreeing with your boss, it’s important to remember that there may be a valid explanation for their choices. It could be coming from higher management orders, financial requirements, or objectives set out by the company as a whole. Your manager is simply doing what they must in order to fulfill those goals and obligations. Sometimes, it’s best to take the advice of Sam Culbert, author of Get Rid of the Performance Review: “Cut your boss a break—that’s the feedback you should give them.”