The annual performance review can be nerve-wracking for even the most confident of employees. And according to a new book by Harvard Law professors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, many managers say they hate giving feedback. So how can workplaces break this vicious cycle? Douglas Stone shares these suggestions.
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Go into the meeting prepared
“Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can happen?” says Stone. “We often have a tendency to exaggerate the extent of the feedback. Let’s say I tell you, ‘You are singing off-key.’ In your head, you might be thinking, ‘He’s saying that I’m awful and that I might never get another job.’ But all I’m really saying is that you are singing off-key.”
Ask for specifics
The term “feedback” is so broad that supervisors may not know where to start. “Instead, just ask for one thing,” Stone says. “Say you are trying to get better in general, and ask if there is one thing that you should work on.”
Say what you mean
Managers should try to be as clear as possible when giving feedback, says Stone. “Take an employee who is told something like, ‘You have to be assertive,’ or ‘Take more initiative.’ Those kinds of phrases don’t have independent meaning.” Instead, he suggests that managers give an example of what they’d like to see.
Take the feedback in good faith
There are two reactions most people have to feedback. “No. 1 is that it is upsetting,” he says. “No. 2 is that it is wrong. [So] the question is: Is it wrong or not?We dismiss feedback because we believe it is wrong. Let’s say someone says you are aloof, and you think ‘I’m not aloof, I talk to my co-workers.’ It’s important to think of what else that could mean. Ask yourself, ‘Am I aloof with the clerical staff?’ Am I aloof with supervisors?’
If you have a tendency to take feedback very personally, it’s important to take a step back. “It’s knowing your own patterns of behavior and being aware that we exaggerate [the severity of the criticism.]” As for readers who feel like a bad performance review is the end of the world, he says they should do this very simple thing: “Ask yourself, am I always going to feel that way?”
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.