Two Phrases to Use When Giving Your Boss Negative Feedback, According to a CEO and Executive Coach

     Your boss is driving you crazy. You feel as if they don’t understand what it’s like to actually do the work. They aren’t considering the consequences of their words or decisions. They play the political game too often to be trusted. And their vision is self-serving or flawed.

     Collaborative teams where character rich colleagues work in alignment with servant leader bosses are ideal but not often the case. Everyone has an ego and bad bosses usually have the biggest.

     Managing the dance with ego is essential at work and in life. There are two egos in a boss/direct report relationship – theirs and yours. You want to anticipate theirs and regulate your own. This requires subduing your need to be right. You don’t need to be right, just get it right.

     Negative feedback is a misnomer in todays’ work environment. The purpose of feedback at work is to help a person improve interpersonally and strategically so that they can be more productive. For someone to grow, they have to feel that any feedback is well intended to help them. Not degrade them. Therefore, what we are really talking about in this article is how to give constrictive feedback to a boss when all you can think of is negative thoughts.  

     One of the golden rules of power is to have your boss’ back because they are in the opportune position to advance or halt your career. This is humbling if you can’t trust your boss and don’t like them. How do you consciously convey feedback for the mutual benefit of both of you without feeling disingenuous or compromising your professionalism?

     Sometimes we have to manage up. This means managing your boss as a good leader would manage any employee. Focus on a positive relationship not the negative fallout.

     Before giving any feedback to your boss or anyone else the most important thing to do is to ask yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish with this feedback?” This will set the tone for the conversation. If you want to rant, blame, control, scold, or convey ‘I-told-you-so’ it will come across that way.

     What do you ultimately want from a feedback conversation with an unfavorable boss? If you want a better work environment, don’t shame them – that accomplishes nothing. Ultimately, you may want respect, more flexibility, a better relationship, to undo a stereotype you’ve been cast in, to position the team to succeed, to show them that their behavior is unacceptable. You might approach them with this…


  1. “May I share my discomfort with something that happened yesterday?”


     If you open with this, it makes the discussion about you and not them. Also, by posing this as a question to which they agree positions them to have to listen. There is no accusation implied in this question.

     Stick with your feelings about what happened. Nobody can argue your feelings. Follow the opening question with how you feel about what was said or done. Give only the facts about what they said or did. No interpretation. No judgment. “When you said… made me feel…..” “When you did this… made me feel….”

     Do not inject characterizations or judgments such as “you were mean” or “you disregarded my opinion.” These arguable interpretations will not advance what you want. Keep your focus on what you ultimately want – a better work environment.

     If you want to undo a stereotype, pose it as a question. “I realize I may be viewed as underperforming. I want to undo that. If I were exceeding your expectations what would that look like?” This forces them to tell you exactly what they expect. They likely won’t be definite so ask them to be very specific. Then you will regularly report on exactly what they tell you.

     Emotionally immature people may gaslight you – try to make you feel that your understanding of what happened isn’t true. This is why you only state truths – they are not debatable. They can’t argue the facts.

     Anticipate their fears and needs. Pacifying their fears and giving them what they want makes them trust you more. Make the feedback become something they need to hear so that they can have what they want. Align their goals with the feedback you want to deliver while imparting your trustworthiness.


  1. “Because I know that you value (X) may I share something with you that may be getting in the way?”


     This is all about them succeeding. This way anything you say after that is positioned to help them reach their goal, not hear how awfully they behave or how they did something wrong.

     If you have an extremely difficult boss your sole goal is to build trust and stay off their radar screen. This will give you autonomy. The mistake direct reports make is that they try to be their inside confidant. Big egos have a difficult time with trust. Be someone they can count on and don’t have to think about. Report on everything you are doing before they ask. Position everything you tell them as something they value. And stay in the background. Don’t debate with them or seek approval. Their ego is untethered.

If you enjoyed this information, you can get to know me more and learn more about my podcast - The Still Space Podcast. This is where my guests and I share fun and simple strategies to manage yourself so that you can show up the way you want in work, relationships and life and not default to past behaviors that leave you disappointed. The Still Space is where you learn to take an intentional moment to challenge habitual assumptions that hold you back with enlightened truths that boost your genius. We transform drama, resentment, doubt, unmet expectations, and self-sabotage to executive presence, self-control, deep sleep, healthy choices, and more connection with the people who matter while it still matters. You can listen wherever you listen to podcasts or at these links. 

Mary Lee’s web site:



If this resonates within you, give yourself the gift of clicking this link to request my Career Survey. After you return the survey I will email you my personal insight on your situation and on whether or not I can bring you value - to understand if it is a good fit to work together. On the other side of all of this you will truly be unstoppable.

* NEW * Does just thinking about your career make you even more exhausted than you alreay are? Now might be the crucial time to work with me on your leadership, executive presence, career and personal goals. Don't wait until you are in crisis or have allowed too much negativity to set in. I developed a survey that helps me assess if working together is a good fit and if I can help you. If it makes sense to work together we can get on a call to discuss. Request the survey here >>> free career survey and review

Your coach,

Mary Lee 

P.S. Take the Career Survey. Do it for yourself. You have nothing to lose. It's time.

P.S.S. Feel free to forward this email to someone who could benefit from it. We are all walking down the same road in life looking for a hand to hold. Sometimes we must be the hand that reaches out.  

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and 19-year corporate CEO who helps leaders have more effective careers, happier lives and better relationships. Request my survey and get my personal review of your situation.

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