How to give negative feedback to your superior?

By Nan Nan Liu-Maffetone | Strong Female Leaders | Target Audience: working women, professional women, professionals, professionals on new jobs

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And if you can stand up for yourself, you are the superior. You don't need a fancy title for that.
EVER FIND YOURSELF IN THE AWKWARD POSITION OF GIVING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK TO SOMEONE WHO IS AT AN ORGANIZATIONALLY HIGHER LEVEL?
You are not the only one. Experienced and well-intentioned leaders can still overstep, interrupt and condescend team members. Instead of shoving the issue under the rug, you should have the personal power to confront the person. However, giving negative feedback is never easy, especially to someone with a more senior-sounding title. That is why you might want to consider the following tips before taking action:
1) Reflect on the situation from all angles.
First ask yourself: is it worth the risk? And give it a hard assessment. If the person did it just once, perhaps he sincerely had strong feelings about the issue. His behavior, then, surged from passion and not ego. In this case, put your own ego in check and let it go.

If the person consistantly treats you poorly, then take action, but start researching and not confronting. Yes, you feel like bursting into his office for a fierce conversation. But it is too soon. Get to know the person better: observe his reactions to other team members, find out what's important to him and what makes him tick, and keep calm for as long as possible. If it helps, set incremental and measurable goals such as "discover three personal facts about the person by the end of the week," or "find five of his professional accomplishments this weekend." This exercise provides better understanding of the person and a distraction from the emotional atrophy that you are suffering from.
2) Prepare your content.
After gaining a better understanding of the person, prepare the content of the conversation. Start with gratitude, and explain that your intention is to help improve yourself, your relationships and the team. At this point, a little humility goes a long way, so admit that you still have a lot to learn, and position yourself, slightly, below the person, and not as a subordinate but as a student. Then, cut to the chase with specific examples and solid details. Here's an example:
During the meeting yesterday, while I presented the marketing plan to the team, you interrupted me three times when I addressed important changes going forward. While you brought up a good point about not changing the process too much, you did leave me feeling undermined.
The preciseness in the message above adds confidence and weight by leaving little to interpretation. It also focuses on the issue at hand and keeps the conversation from getting personal. As women, we want to raise our words, not our voices. Precision helps with that.
3) Practice makes perfect.
When you feel nervous, conversations rarely end well. To reduce the nervous feeling, practicing helps. Deliver your message to people you trust first, like your family, mentors and friends. Encourage them to react in various ways, so you can prepare how you respond in varioius ways. Remember to allow time for the person to respond. Also, provoke them to give feedback, and focus on areas of authenticity, understanding, and overall feel.
4) Go through with the conversation.
Even if you've practiced to perfection, you may still feel nervous about the conversation. Don't let it stop you. Schedule the meeting and get through it like the mature professional that you are. Use the tools mentioned above, and don't forget to allow the person to respond.

While you hoped for the best outcome, things may end poorly too. Your "superior" may become defensive, dismissive, or even angry. Instead of mirroring negativity, oppose it with a better response. You can express compassion, soften your tone, say empathetic words, or just apologize that the situation occurred in the first place.

You can also leverage silence to ease the tension. Sometimes, all people need is just time to take it in. And if things get really bad, just walk away politely. No matter what, be grateful. Thank her for her time, and be the bigger person.
5) Pat ourself on the back.
If you are new to the team, you are the most vulnerable member. Giving feedback to any team member, and especially the one with the most senior-sounding title, requires incredible courage. You can either cowardly let it go, or address it like an adult. You always have a choice.
Parting Thoughts
In today's workplace, and especially in the knowledge workplace, the actual professional holds the power. Because: knowledge is power. Knowing this should give you more confidence to stand up for yourself.

And if you can stand up for yourself, you are the superior. You don't need a fancy title for that.

[ End of Article ]

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