(MoneyWatch) Criticizing your boss can be tricky. Most good managers don't want a "yes man," or woman, but you need to be able to share a dissenting opinion without ruining your relationship. Criticize in the right way, and you'll communicate better. Then, you'll be that much closer to becoming his go-to guy or gal.
Here are 5 smart ways to get your point across:
Ask clarifying questions
If you think your boss is leading the team astray, clarifying questions can help him or her see the error of their ways, naturally. "For example, if your boss asks you to complete some task that is impossible, then ask questions leading them to the conclusion that it can't be done. This makes it more about the process and less about you and your unwillingness to do what you were asked to do," says Elizabeth Lions, author of Recession Proof Yourself!
Pick the right time and place
Use what you know about your manager to decide when to address concerns. "Pick a time you think will work best for him/her; e.g., not before s/he has to attend a crucial meeting or meet a critical deadline. [Then] look out for nonverbal cues that suggest your manager appears to be frustrated, insecure, nervous or overwhelmed. This means that s/he likely won't be receptive to hearing your feedback," suggests Colette D. Ellis, Principal at InStep Consulting, LLC, a leadership consulting firm. Do it privately: "Don't be the employee who publicly criticizes your manager at the staff meeting or client presentation." And in general, speak face-to-face where there is less room for tone or meaning to be taken out of context.
Lead with the value to them
If you want to change how your boss is doing something, show them how your way will benefit them and help them do their job well. "For example, you may say to your manager, 'I know this project is important and that you would like it to succeed. I have a few thoughts on how we can improve it further,'" says executive coach Stepanhie Somanchi, MBA, PhD.
Talk early and often
You should have an ongoing dialogue with your boss, whether it's small talk or just regular, professional interactions. "If you have built a respectful working relationship with your boss your input is going to be seen as more credible. If however, you give feedback when you're not producing (from the boss' perspective) or when your boss is giving you feedback you don't like, you'll only be seen as defensive," says Gayle Abbott, CEO of the consulting firm Strategic Alignment Partners, Inc.
Ask permission to give feedback
Depending on your relationship, this step might not be necessary. But if you're more formal with your boss, it can definitely smooth your path. "If you have criticism that must be shared, always treat your boss with respect and ask them for their permission to provide your feedback. For instance you could say, 'Would it be OK with you if I offered you some feedback from my perspective?'" says Susan Steinbrecher, CEO of Steinbrecher & Associates, and author of the leadership Kensho: A Modern Awakening Instigating Change in an Era of Global Renewal.