How to deal with a bad manager: A guide to giving feedback

Giving your manager feedback can be a daunting prospect, especially if that feedback is negative. However, effective communication is essential to maintaining a productive workplace, and a good manager should appreciate constructive criticism if it helps to raise standards and output, or if it tackles an existing issue head-on. 

Helpful feedback can show you are ambitious and eager to improve conditions for yourself, your manager, and your colleagues. It could even help you to land a promotion later on, if you can show that you made a suggestion which had a material impact on the output of your team. 

What is constructive criticism?  

It might sound like a silly question, but it's important to know what constitutes constructive criticism and when it's appropriate to give your manager feedback.

Constructive feedback is not just complaining - although there is a time for that too. Rather, you might have an idea to improve a process, or you may have identified a problem that deserves attention. 

The key word here is 'constructive'. By implementing your suggestion or acting on your feedback, your manager should be able to make some kind of improvement. If you're just asking for your own job to be made easier or complaining about your workload, this is less likely to have a lasting positive impact. 

Is your feedback welcome?

Most good workplaces welcome feedback from employees, especially if it's positive or helpful. Try to find out if your company has a specific policy in place for employee feedback, and whether you should send it to your line manager or somebody else. Ideally a more senior director with a personal interest in raising standards, or a designated person in human resources. 

If you know feedback is welcome, then make sure you follow the company policy if it's appropriate to do so. This not only ensures your feedback reaches the right person, but might also mean formatting it in a certain way or filling in a specific feedback form, which can help to make it more actionable for management. 

How to deal with a bad boss

When you feel like giving your manager feedback will not go well, that could be a problem with the individual, rather than with your company culture as a whole. See if you can find somebody else to speak to - discreetly, if you're worried about how your line manager will react. 

Sometimes, giving your manager feedback is necessary even if they will respond negatively. If you have a grievance, for instance, it's wise to put this down in writing and keep a record of the response you receive, if any.

You might find you want to escalate the issue later, so be professional and polite in your feedback, but make sure you can prove that you submitted it, and that your manager read what you wrote. 

Top tips for giving your manager feedback

To get your message across more successfully, here are five top tips for managerial feedback that should help you decide what to say and how to say it.

1. Put it in writing 

Quick and casual feedback can be mentioned in a less formal setting, but anything with lasting implications should be submitted in writing. At best, you'll have something you can show when applying for your next promotion. At worst, you'll have an evidence trail in case you need it for an employee tribunal or disciplinary hearing later on. 

2. Be clear and concise  

Don't send off your first draft. Write down your feedback and give it a good read through. Change the wording of anything that sounds unclear. Remove any information that is not needed. Managers are often extremely short on time, so by keeping your feedback to the essentials you improve the chances of your supervisor spending valuable time on it. 

3. Know your place 

In some situations, you might want to give feedback on an issue that does not directly affect you. If you want to appear proactive or you genuinely think your suggestion will help the organisation as a whole, it can still be appropriate to make your voice heard. Just do so with respect and be prepared for your feedback to be rejected if you're stepping outside of the scope of your own role. 

4. Choose your timing 

Make good use of scheduled opportunities to provide feedback. These might be morning meetings, weekly team catch-ups or your own periodic appraisals. If your performance review is coming up soon, it may be appropriate to wait until then to give your opinion. However, remember that an appraisal is supposed to be about you, not your criticism of the company, so it might be sensible to wait until a different time to politely raise the issue.  

5. Be positive 

Remember, constructive criticism should have a positive outcome in mind, so try to focus on this and not on the immediate negative aspects of the problem at hand. By offering positivity and the expectation of a beneficial end result, you improve the likelihood of your manager actioning your feedback even further. 

What to do if your voice goes unheard 

In general, companies receive a lot of feedback and criticism - not always constructive - from employees at all levels in the hierarchical structure. It's not possible to act on every opinion and idea, and often not in the budget to do so.

Effective management means choosing the priorities that will deliver the greatest benefit for the company as a whole. 

This can feel frustrating if, as an individual, you continually come up with excellent ideas and don't see any of them go into effect. If you have a constructive suggestion that you can handle yourself, ask your line manager if they would mind you doing so. You might find a pet project that leaves you feeling more motivated, and you could strengthen your case for a pay rise or promotion in your next appraisal. 

What next?

No job is worth poor mental well-being. So, if you still find yourself feeling demoralised and unvalued by your employer, it might be worth looking elsewhere for new job opportunities.

If you want to escape a toxic boss, find a mentor with a better management style or remove yourself from a difficult relationship with your current manager then start your job search today, right here at Michael Page. We have over 10,000 live jobs currently on our site so start your job search today to land your dream job. 
Want to speak to a specialist? Submit your CV today and one of our dedicated recruitment specialists will be in touch.

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