Giving feedback to the boss

Your boss is encouraging you to offer honest feedback and share your opinions. You hesitate to do so, because the boss sometimes doesn’t react well to being challenged.

Use these strategies to tell your boss what you need to say—without being too pushy.

  • “May I play devil’s advocate?” When you open with that request, you position and cushion your comments. When you play a “role”—as devil’s advocate—the boss won’t react to your feedback personally.
  • If you decide to go that route, my concern is …” Offer a helpful warning that is designed to protect the boss from making a bad decision. That shows you are thinking ahead and considering consequences. Note: Deliver that line in a thinking-out-loud tone. That prevents your comments from sounding arrogant.
  • I understand why you would think that way—because of X,Y and Z. But what about this alternative?” Your boss will be much more willing to listen to your idea after you acknowledge the validity of the favored course of action. That makes you seem more like partners brainstorming, rather than a subordinate criticizing the boss.

— Adapted from “How to Coach and Give Feedback” by Joan Lloyd.

Get straight answers from ramblers

You ask a coworker about the status of a project, and he starts talking about how his dog kept him up all night. Pulling a simple answer from someone who rambles on and on with seemingly no interest in making a point can test your patience.

Here’s how to help ramblers focus:

  • Repeat your question. If the rambler veers off topic, cut in at the first opportunity and repeat what you asked, without sighing or fidgeting.
  • Frame your answer. When you pose a question, offer two or three alternatives that reveal the type of answer you seek. Example: “Did you determine why that account expired. Was it because of a miscommunication, poor service or some other cause?”
  • Explain why you need a quick, succinct answer. Example: “I’m asking you this because I have only 20 minutes to prepare for the meeting and I need those facts.”
  • Ask for “the short version.” Genially request a “30-second over­view” rather than a full analysis. Specify exactly what you need to know. Example: “Let’s have your bottom-line assessment of the top three downsides of pursuing this strategy.”


Quick tip: The right pronoun prevents conflict

Using the right pronoun can head off conflict. Examples:

  • Replace the blaming “You did this” with “Here’s what I think took place.”
  • Supplant the accusing “You shouldn’t have done it that way” with “Here’s how I think it could have been done.”
  • Substitute the aggressive “Why didn’t you do as you were told?” with “Help me understand why what we agreed to didn’t happen.”

Source: The Bad Attitude Survival Guide, by Harry E. Chambers.

Grammar lesson: Setup vs. set up

Setup is a noun or adjective meaning “the way something is organized, planned or arranged.” Example: “The setup of the conference room was conducive to a productive meeting.”

Set up is a verb meaning “to place, raise, assemble or put forward.” Example: The executive assistant set up the conference room for maximum productivity.”

Decline a raise request

You won’t always be able to offer employees raises—even when you feel they deserve one as much as they feel they do.

You have to tread lightly because refusing a request for pay increase can demotivate employees or send them searching for a new job. To decline a raise request without destroying an employee’s morale, follow this advice:

  • Establish a career plan. Explain that you are unable to offer the person the raise right now but that you can reconsider the raise if he or she makes significant improvements or gains new skills or knowledge. For example, a benchmark could be to exceed an annual sales quota.
  • Offer more responsibility. Tell employees that you can justify an increase in their wages if they prove that they can successfully increase their workload or take on more difficult assignments. Move them out of their comfort zone on a project to see what they are capable of doing.

Remember: If you offer these options and the employee succeeds, be prepared to cough up the extra money. If you are in no place to offer an increase now or in the future, simply say “I just can’t offer you more money right now.”

— Adapted from “How to Say No When an Employee Asks for a Raise,” Gil Zeimer, Intuit Small Business Blog,

Be direct when you communicate

You have heard of passive-aggressive behavior. But have you heard of passive-digressive behavior? A passive-digressive speaker skirts an issue, hoping that the listener will pick up on the hint and make desired changes.

Example: “I went by your cubicle first thing this morning, but you were not there.” That may seem like a nonaggressive way to clue the person in to your displeasure with his or her tardiness. However, such a statement leaves the person in doubt.

Better: Ask directly for what you want. Say: “This week you have been 15 minutes late for work twice. That concerns me. I need and expect you to be here at 8 a.m. every day.”
— Adapted from “Do You Communicate Clearly and Directly, or Are You Passive-Digressive?” Colette Carlson, WomensMedia,

Quick tip: Prevent controversial debates

If a customer or coworker asks you a question about a controversial subject, don’t offer your opinion. Instead say “I don’t have an opinion about that.” Then change the subject to something more work appropriate.