Telling your manager they’re wrong can be tricky.
For obvious reasons, they should know when they have got their facts wrong or made an error. But you don’t want to seem like a know-it-all, and you never want to embarrass or insult your superior — so you need to tread carefully.
“It’s a sticky situation,” writes Bernard Marr, a bestselling business author and global enterprise performance expert, in a recent LinkedIn post. “Do you let them know they have made a mistake, or do you hold your tongue and let someone else be the bearer of bad news?”
He says some managers appreciate when their employees question their decisions because they know they don’t have all the answers. “Others? Well, let’s say they’re less open to feedback.”
Here are four things you should do if your boss tends to not take criticism well:
1. Pick your battles. “Before you lay on the criticism, ask yourself, how important is it that I correct this?” writes Marr. “If your boss is misquoting your favourite movie or mixing up the tiny details of how something happened, it’s probably not worth correcting them.” But if their mistake will be costly to the company or make them look stupid in a big meeting, it’s probably worth letting them know (if, and only if, you go about in in the right way).
2. Don’t correct them in front of others. Think very carefully about when and how you want to tell your boss they have made a mistake or were wrong about something. “If at all possible, speak to your boss in private, so there’s no chance you will embarrass him in front of others,” Marr suggests. “Correcting your boss in front of a client or in front of his boss is probably the worst possible time, because your boss has the most at stake.”
3. Use suggestions instead of statements. “Couch your correction or criticism as a suggestion or opinion,” Marr advises. For instance, try something like: “I think this would be a better way to handle…” he says. “When you don’t come out swinging with the ‘You’re wrong,’ bat, you also make it easier for them to buy in and agree with you.”
4. Offer a solution. “Nobody likes to hear that they’re wrong, but it’s even worse when there seems to be no point to it,” says Marr. “Instead of just pointing out a mistake, offer a suggested solution for how to fix it.”
He says even if you handle it perfectly, there’s no guarantee that your boss will admit to his mistake. “In that case, go back to step one and ask yourself how important the issue is. Know when it’s time to escalate and take your concerns to someone else in the company. You might want to go to HR first (who will likely agree to keep your concern confidential) before addressing your boss’ boss directly.”
Read the full LinkedIn post here.
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