Is anonymous peer feedback fair game in a performance evaluation? Elaine Varelas discusses

Do you bristle at the idea of receiving anonymous peer feedback in an annual performance review? Do you want to confront your critics? Elaine Varelas discusses this practice.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: As part of my annual performance review, my manager solicited anonymous feedback from my coworkers. Some of the feedback was less than positive, which made me angry—if I don’t know who is providing the negative feedback, I can’t offer my perspective of the situation or learn from the context! Is this fair? It just felt like an opportunity for others to complain about me without consequences.

A: Congratulations, you have just participated in a 360 degree feedback review. This is a well-accepted practice designed to produce a full picture of an employee via the perspectives of managers, direct reports, and yes, peers. Any time people are asked to provide feedback, they are asked to provide positive and developmental opportunities. If receiving challenging feedback makes you angry, perhaps your anger is one of the developmental areas you need to address.

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Managers can only view employees from their own vantage point, which is why seeking alternative perspectives is so valuable for them. Many employees focus mainly on managing up, because that’s where most of the rewards are. What many employees don’t always manage well are relationships with peers or with direct reports. Your manager is trying to determine what others experience in their interactions with you—which could be different from how he or she experiences you. Your role in this is to listen to and learn from the feedback you’re receiving. You seem resentful that you weren’t able to confront your coworkers and provide your side of the story for every piece of feedback they provided. Resist this point of view, as it will do nothing to aid your development. People respond in different ways to situations, and you don’t need to argue with them. Instead, you need to learn from the context.

A good manager will use 360 degree feedback to help identify certain themes and patterns that may be hindering your success in some aspect of your work. This is not about finding excuses for a single example of a negative experience a colleague mentioned. It is about raising your self-awareness of trends in your interactions with others. For example, your colleagues’ feedback may have highlighted a tendency of yours to get angry when confronted with any kind of conflict. This would not be a single, one-off situation they were referring to, it would be an assessment of the typical, standard behavior that coworkers experience when they deal with you. Your manager asked your colleagues to give information about you, and I’m confident that the information they provided included positive comments as well as opportunities for development. Your next step is to abandon any anger you are feeling and approach those opportunities for development with an open mind to improve your relationships with coworkers. If you do not pay mind to this, you miss the opportunity to develop the skills that others, including your manager, think you need to be successful.

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It’s important that you come to terms with this kind of development feedback, as it is common, valuable, and can backfire if you do not respond to it properly. Do not start asking people what they said about you or try to guess based on the information you were given—there is no need to go looking for a confrontation. Expressing surprise or sadness or even a little bit of anger to your manager is reasonable, as it can be difficult to receive feedback sometimes. Just being able to accept feedback isn’t the end of the story though. The most effective part of a 360 is the development of an action plan and coaching support to implement development opportunities. With your manager’s support, you need to take concrete steps to bridge the gaps in your performance.

Gathering information from colleagues is a pretty well-accepted practice in a performance review. If these people interact with you on a regular basis, your manager is well within his or her rights to talk to them and use their perspective in your evaluation. Weaving together information from people in different parts of the organization who have different relationships with an individual will yield helpful themes and patterns about that person. This should be viewed as a boost to your personal development and success, not an opportunity to argue, start fights, or hold grudges.

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