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Critiquing your boss

You’ve been late meeting a client’s deadline for the third month in a row because a colleague hasn’t given you the information you need in time. Despite repeatedly stressing the importance of sticking to the timeline, there has been no change in behavior. Your client has been patient, but it’s clear he’s beginning to get annoyed. It’s time to talk to your colleague about the issue. The problem? This colleague also happens to be your boss.

 If there’s one situation that requires you to muster all of your diplomacy and professionalism, it’s giving your manager feedback. Should you speak up? What’s the right way to do so? Will your boss even listen to you?

 Navigating these waters can be tricky, and making a wrong move may have serious career consequences. Following is some advice:

 Consider your boss’s personality.

How open your boss is to receiving feedback plays a big part in how you approach the situation. Of course it’s tough to come right out and ask your manager if he or she would like some criticism. Instead, look for clues. For example, does your supervisor welcome candid comments during meetings, or are others’ ideas and opinions quickly dismissed?

 You might also talk to your colleagues to get a temperature check. Ask a few co-workers if the issue you want to raise is worth mentioning and if they’ve ever critiqued the boss. How did they approach the situation, and what type of reaction did they receive?

 Set the stage.

If you decide it’s worth speaking up, don’t blindside your boss with the news that you disagree with his or her decision or approach. You don’t have to go into great detail, but give him or her an idea of what you want to discuss beforehand. For example, you might say, “I’ve been thinking about the new time-off policy you introduced. Do you have a moment later this afternoon to talk about it?”

Time it right.

Be sensitive to what your supervisor might be dealing with before setting up a time to talk, unless the matter is extremely urgent. If the team is short staffed, and your manager is trying to help everyone manage the extra work, wait until things slow down.

 Also think about what time of day is best for the discussion. If your manager needs a cup of coffee to get going in the morning, don’t schedule something for 9 a.m.

 Carefully frame your feedback.

Often it’s not what you say but how you say it. Your aim shouldn’t be to point fingers or complain about what you perceive to be your boss’s failings. Instead, present the situation in a neutral tone, explain what the impact has been on you or the team and offer possible solutions.  

 Have a plan in place if the conversation turns sticky. Your supervisor might not see things the same way you do or may bring up issues you hadn’t considered, such as your own role in the situation.

 If you sense the discussion is rapidly deteriorating, stop. You may need to back off and accept that you’ve lost the fight. You don’t want to press an issue to the point where you damage your relationship with your boss.

 Offer a helping hand.

If your manager is missing deadlines or you find it difficult to get approvals or feedback, it could be a sign that your boss has too much on his or her plate. You might consider asking if there’s anything you can do to lighten the load and make things easier for your supervisor. Not only can this simple step help alleviate the frustration you’re experiencing, but your manager will likely appreciate your offer of assistance.

 Explore other avenues.

The simple truth is not every boss will be open to critique from the team. If you’re uncomfortable bringing an issue to your manager’s attention, look for other ways to voice your concerns, such as 360-degree reviews or employee surveys. Just stick to the official channels rather than the office rumor mill. You’re much more likely to be heard, and you can be sure your reputation won’t suffer.

 By Robert Half International

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at or follow us on Twitter at

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