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Manage Up – Earning the Right to Give Feedback

You disagree with something someone above you said or did. How do you tell the person without actually telling him?manage up

Lots of people think they can’t give direct feedback when talking to someone at a higher level. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. The ability to speak freely has little to do with titles and more to do with the quality of your relationship. When you’re comfortable with people and have mutual trust, you can say (almost) anything, regardless of titles and levels. But that’s not the true purpose of today’s blog. So I’m going to stick to the topic at hand –what to say when you feel like you can’t say very much.

When you don’t have the relationship to say what you really think, manage up by asking a question instead. Engage the person in a conversation. At some point during the conversation, you’ll be able to say what you think.

For example, you question a decision but don’t want to overtly say you question the decision.

Here’s how the conversation could go:

“I wasn’t involved in the conversations to select our new payroll software. Can you give me a little history? What had us choose our current provider?”

“What software features were important when selecting the software?”

“What problem were we trying to solve that drove the need to make a change?”

“What do you like about the software we picked? What don’t you like?”

** Obviously this is meant to be a discussion, not an interrogation. Ask one question at a time and see where the conversation goes. You may ask all of these questions and you may ask only one.

The point is to gather more information. Manage up by seeking to understand before you express an opinion. As the conversation progresses, you might see opportunities to express your point of view.

Here are three suggestions if you’re going to practice the technique of asking questions as a way to manage up and eventually give feedback:

1. When you ask a question, come from a place of genuine curiosity. If you aren’t truly curious and asking questions is just a technique you found in some blog, it will show.

2. Watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.

3. Be patient. Asking questions may feel easier than giving direct feedback, but it also takes more patience and time.

As the conversation progresses, you might be asked for your opinion. Before saying what you think, remember, no one likes to be told that s/he is wrong. And the person you’re talking to likely had a hand in making the decision you’re questioning. Be careful not to judge.

Instead of overtly judging, consider saying something like:

“I think the new system has potential and also has some limitations. Do you want feedback as we use the system and get to know it better?”

“What specifically would you like feedback on? What are you not looking for feedback on?”

“What’s the best way to provide input and to whom?”

You can speak more freely when you have the relationship to do so and have permission. Until you have both, earn the right to give feedback by asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity. And only provide your point of view when you’re asked and are certain you have all the information to defend your position.

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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4 Responses to “Manage Up – Earning the Right to Give Feedback”

  1. Linda says:

    Shari — you just gave a workshop for the Colorado Community College System that I attended. Thank you.

    I like this column. I feel like I am always looking at change of one sort or another — some changes I understand and some I don’t. I like this advice, because sometimes I don’t know how to “ride for the brand” when I don’t know enough about how and why the decision was made. I will definitely use this idea to learn and understand more.

    Thanks!

  2. Bonnie says:

    Thank you for this insightful information to consider.

  3. Karen says:

    This article is of special interest to me especially when as someone in Management, you are not inluded in the decision making process of an issue that affects your own department. I think though if you always have the same style of asking questions, people will catch on that this is your own style of saying” what did you do that for”. But the correct tone is everything in the the conversation as Shari said.

  4. Rebecca Jones says:

    I recently saw Shari Harley at work conference in Nashville TN. She is a wonderful speaker and has some great advice for people of any age and work status . I highly recommend reading this book .

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