Feedback – enabler or inhibitor?

For many people, April represents appraisal season. Assessing the previous 12 months objectives and thinking about feedback for appraisal discussions, either as the appraisee or appraiser. Firstly a caveat, I’m a fan of feedback as an input to our performance assessment. I make the distinction of it being input as many people believe feedback is an instruction.  I’d argue you need to take personal responsibility to determine what to do with the feedback. It might be you want a plan to tackle an area of your performance you’d like to improve. It might be that you recognise the feedback and decide not to do anything different. This, of course, could mean you need to consider consequences both good and not so good. Here are three areas to mull over when thinking about what to do.

1) It’s an opinion

It’s very often the case that feedback is based on opinion, not fact. And yet I see numerous examples when coaching people where they take something said in feedback as fact. Often hanging on to a faulty belief for a significant period of time. Make sure you step back from feedback and develop an objective view of what has been said.  This isn’t to say that opinions are not valuable. They certainly can be. Just be mindful that others might see things from a very different perspective and give you different feedback on the same situation. It can be helpful to get a range of inputs on a particular subject (including your own self-assessment) and then work out what you might do. The answer to that might be, you decide you don’t need to do anything different.

2) Variables of the appraiser

Linked to above is the fact that the appraiser’s opinion is based on a host of variables that we often don’t take into account when reading or listening to what they have to say.  Here are some examples:

  • What mood they were in when thinking about the feedback to give you? Objectively we can appreciate that when someone is stressed or perhaps just hungry their outlook and mood will change. This is likely to impact how they view the world and your performance.
  • The amount of time they have allowed themselves to consider what to say or write. That includes the preparation, the time to give the feedback and the follow up afterwards.
  • The appraiser’s past experience and value system. When assessing your performance the appraiser will naturally draw on their own experience and values.  Their circumstances are unlikely to be an exact match for your circumstances. Stephen Covey the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, used to call this giving ‘feedback’ from your own autobiography. It’s potentially dangerous and full of pitfalls for the appraiser and appraisee.

3) Competence of the appraiser

Some people put their line managers opinion on a pedestal. There are a host of reasons for this from how the person was brought up (respect the seniors) to fearing the negative consequences of not doing what the person tells you (if you don’t do ‘this’ you won’t get your promotion). I‘m not suggesting it’s wrong to do this. You need to make up your own mind about that. I would ask you to factor in that many line managers just aren’t very good at giving feedback. Perhaps inexperience or just clumsy or in worst cases jealous and spiteful. My basis for saying this is the time I spend working with people in coaching sessions who have suffered a knock to their confidence as a result of some poorly executed feedback.

So whether you are the appraiser or appraisee take the responsibility seriously when it comes to feedback. It’s a brilliant opportunity to suppress or make the most of potential. Good luck.

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