Speaking ‘Up’ – Tips for Giving Feedback to Superiors

4 min read

Last week we shared 5 videos, one each day, with tips on how to give feedback to your superiors. We got messages from people who found them useful and have been fearful of speaking up in the past.

Here’s a review of the key points we shared!


Tip One – Ask How They Like to Receive Feedback

Asking how your manager likes to receive feedback builds trust and shows respect. Doing this before a situation arises means that when one does you can simply take the approach that you’ve been told to take. This almost gives you permission to go and give that feedback and feel comfortable in doing so instead of toiling over what way to do it for days or weeks and stressing the whole time. One person may say just give me it straight, another may say give me a heads up and book some time with me rather than blindsiding me. Everyone has their own preference and it shows maturity and respect to take this step.

Tip Two – Think Win/ Win

When we give feedback to anyone our minds are usually buried in our own experience of the situation. When giving feedback to someone higher ranking it can be so daunting that we just focus on getting it over and done with. Worse is when it builds up in us for so long that finally one day it explodes out of us and damages our relationships.

Before giving feedback to anyone we should stop and ask ourselves first of all what we want to get out of the situation; what do we want to happen as a result of speaking up? Secondly, we should think about the other person’s experience of the same situation and what their desired outcome might be. We should then approach the meeting with a focus on finding an outcome which is agreeable to both parties. When we both win, it’s been a successful negotiation. When only one of us wins, neither does in the long term as that’s not a healthy and sustainable relationship.

For more on this tip research transactional analysis or read Steven Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’

Tip Three – Think About the Practicalities

Where should we give the feedback, when should it happen and who should be involved? Typically feedback just happens when the moment summons it. Something happens and we react by saying something that isn’t very well thought through. This can damage relationships and our chances of achieving a positive outcome.

If there’s something that you need to say, consider giving the recipient of the feedback notice so that by the time they are discussing the topic with you they have mentally prepared and are in a more resourceful state for having a constructive conversation. Plan a time which will be conducive to having a constructive conversation. So, not when they’re up to their eyes in work and stressed to the max, but also ensuring the feedback is timely so that it happens before there are further consequences.

Choose a location which allows both parties to feel comfortable and ensures that the conversation is treated with confidentiality and respect.

Think about whether it would be useful to involve others, or whether that would damage your chances of achieving the outcome.

Tip Four – Manage Your Emotional State

For some people when they have to give feedback they fall apart with nerves and anxiety. This is often shaped by past experiences we have had of speaking up and receiving an undesirable response. If you give feedback professionally and with good intentions but people react negatively to you that says more about them than you.

It’s important that your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are congruent with the outcome you want to achieve. So, think about your outcome in advance of having the conversation and ask yourself what your physiology and tonality need to convey in order to stand the best chance of achieving it. Then, rehearse it!

To overcome nerves, understand that we play a role in creating any state which we are in. Understanding the building blocks also then tells us how to deconstruct them. So, if you’re tense, uptight, your breathing is shallow, you’re fidgeting etc. this is putting you in what is called an ‘unresourceful state’. Make a conscious choice to notice where the tension is in your body, shake it out, loosen up and relax. Make a conscious choice to breathe long deep purposeful breaths and that will loosen up your body and your mind too. If your mouth is dry have a drink of water, that’s not illegal and no one will judge you for it. Take your time, speak purposefully and clearly, remember it’s not a race and the faster you speak the more likely you’ll make mistakes, trip yourself up and feel worse.

If you still have nervous energy, press down with your toes into the floor. No-one is looking at your feet and it gives you something to do with that excess energy so you shake less.

Tip Five – Keep it Neutral & Factual

If you approach the conversation based on feeling and opinion, it’s easy for someone to disagree and for the conversation to become heated. Do your homework, get your evidence, canvass opinion if it’s appropriate to do so; then it’s not just your word against theirs. Focus on the outcome, not who’s right and who’s wrong. That way you can use what you truly know about the situation to work together to find the best solution.




You can’t determine what choice(s) your superior will make, but you can choose to make sure they have all the information required to make an informed decision. Once you’ve done that, be respectful, step back and allow them the headspace to choose the way forward. That’s their responsibility and they will be the ones who are accountable for whatever decision is taken so it’s only right they make the choice.

That said, a good manager or leader will want to seek the counsel of those around them because they’re aware that groups are better informed and in a large set of circumstances make better choices than individuals. No one person can know everything.

If you work under a management team who don’t want your opinion and shut you down every time you try to contribute, you may want to consider having a different conversation. A conversation about why you aren’t valued and why you can’t speak up professionally.

If we want to have fulfilling careers it’s important we work somewhere where we matter!


Have you found these tips useful?

Please share your thoughts or what’s worked for you in the comments!