How to Criticize Your Manager

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Hardly anybody likes to be criticized—and that includes your manager. After all, criticizing means judging or finding fault. So if your manager could benefit from some feedback, be careful. What you say could improve your relationship—or damage it.

According to a Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Garone, aptly titled “How to Criticize your Boss—Nicely,” you have to be careful about your tone and the timing of the issue you want to raise. Then “when you're ready to bring it up, find a safe setting and ask permission to talk about something that you've observed in your informal conversations.”

If you’re sure your concerns are professional and not personal, try to approach your manager with a constructive mindset. Ron Brown, writing in CBS Money Watch, suggests that you aim to discuss the process and where the gaps in results might be coming from.

Fundamentally you want to take the position that you're trying to help solve these problems and make your boss look good. So you might say something like "We seem to be underperforming in area X. I think we could get more out of our business if we did Y." You always want to frame your comments in the context of getting better results.

But sometimes the problem is not about work outcomes, but rather that the boss is behaving inappropriately or overreacting to some situation. According to Calvin Sun of TechRepublic, your initial impulse might be to react in kind. It’s best to resist this temptation or you risk making the situation worse. If you can keep things on a professional level, you’ll make a positive impression on anyone who may be watching or who may later hear about it.

And needless to say—though it apparently does need to be said—don’t criticize your boss online. Steve Greenhouse, writing in The New York Times, describes the case a couple of years ago of the woman who was fired for criticizing her boss on her Facebook page. Whether or not the criticism was valid, it’s an approach to avoid. Public criticism of a boss—or a company, for that matter—on a social networking site can only lead to problems.

Especially important is the advice of Fast Company’s Paul Glover: Don’t criticize your boss in public. In addition, be sure to express your concerns directly to your boss. Don’t let your grievances seep out to your coworkers.

If you’re one of the lucky ones, you have a relationship with your manager in which you can both talk openly without fear of repercussions about each other’s behavior and what needs changing. But if you’re not, decide if whatever bugs you about your manager is worth the risk of a negative outcome. Then go for it—or not.

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Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.