The Way We Work
January 19, 2011 by Tamara Rice

So you’ve landed a good independent contracting gig — one you’d like to keep in the long term — but a few challenges in the working relationship are starting to get you down (and maybe even drive you nuts). Should you risk offering the employer some negative feedback before you go crazy?

The answer is yes. Yes, take that risk. But how and when to offer such feedback is a little more tricky. Here are a few things we’ve learned:

1. Timing Is Everything. Much like in a personal relationship, how and when you bring up the things that bother you can make all the difference in how the bothersome issues are received.

  • DO offer feedback when things are going smoothly. You are actually more likely to get some solutions to the frustrating problems of your working relationship, when you aren’t in the midst of that frustrating situation. Don’t be afraid to give negative feedback during positive interactions — it’s probably the best time.

employer feedback one2.  Simplicity Is Best. Avoid details unless you are asked specifically for them. When it comes to negative feedback, less is usually more.

  • DON’T overstate the problem.  Choose your words of advice or negative feedback carefully. Be to the point. Edit your email carefully or write down what you will say, if you are saying it over the phone. Use simple, brief terms and keep things to just a few sentences. If the employer cares to get more details, they will ask you for them.

3. Focus on Your Role. When communicating potentially harsh negative feedback, it’s better to focus on your own work process, rather than the employer’s.

  • DON’T try to solve the employer’s problems. Just communicate your own, and avoid using any accusatory language that will put the employer on the defensive.

Wrong Way: You don’t give me enough time to do the work, and your directions aren’t specific enough. Right Way: I tend to work better when I’m given a little more time to process the work. I also would love to have more specific directions.

4. Positivity. You have to mix in a little positive feedback if you want to communicate your desire to hang onto the job in the long term.

  • DO express what you love about the job. No need to gush, just state the truth. If it’s a job you value, say so. Tell the employer why you like working with the company — they’ll like hearing it.

We know offering potentially negative feedback to an ongoing employer may feel a little bit like biting the hand that feeds you. However, you have to think of your own best interests. If the way an employer handles things is proving to be a real issue for you — having a negative impact on your work/life balance or your work performance — take the initiative to speak up.

Have you ever expressed negative feedback to an ongoing contract employer? Let us know how it went and what you learned from the experience in the comments below. 

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.