For me, very few things create a vortex of anticipation, anxiety, and hope in the way reviews seem to do. Through all my years of managing and being managed, experience has helped me hone some practices that I think serve everyone involved with the right balance of growth and acknowledgment.
Tell People What’s Headed Their Way
Want to reduce anxiety? Then be clear about what the review process entails. Be transparent about the entire process – and that includes what you think might go off the rails. This year at TXI, we shifted our review model from one in-depth, detailed annual review to four lightweight, quarterly feedback sessions. Leadership made sure to broadcast this change well in advance. Before reviews started, I reached out to each member with a reporting line to explicitly ask if they had questions, worries, or concerns. Surprises are for birthdays, not performance evaluations.
Ask For Consent
Waiting for a review to hit your inbox can be excruciating for some people. In our organization, we provide copies of reviews at least 24 hours in advance. Make it a practice to check in with your direct reports and tell them you’ll signal when you’re about to release their review and ask if that time works for them. Some people want the information the minute it’s available, others at the end of the workday or even the week. Even the most complimentary reviews can create stress. Help ease that unnecessary emotional burden by acknowledging each individual’s preferences.
Create Supportive Space
Getting feedback often requires discipline and energy for the recipient. Stop and take a moment to ask the reviewee how they prefer to process. Some people want to talk in detail about each point, while others may need to adopt a dispassionate persona for the moment and follow up later. Try starting the conversation by offering an agreed-upon timeout mechanism. And most importantly, if you’re sharing growth feedback that is tough to hear, it can be uncomfortable for both parties. Both of you might leave the conversation with heightened emotions. Please remember it’s not the reviewee’s job to perform emotional labor to manage your feelings before, during, or after a review.
Hear me out on this one. I’m not advocating that all of us cry each time we hit a bump in the road. We tend to be very forgiving of raised voices and heated comments during moments of stress, whereas we see tears in a different light. All are outlets for emotional overload. Try having a conversation about what to do when a person cries before it occurs. Do they want you to carry on as if nothing is happening, call a time out, or explicitly ask them how to proceed? Doing so means that the person doesn’t have the added burden of telling you how you best support them.
Ask What You Don’t Know
I once read that feedback is for “input, not imprint.” That has stuck with me. As we share feedback with team members, it’s important to acknowledge that reviews are data points, not value judgments. Asking if there is an additional perspective that the person wants to highlight helps us understand how words and acts can have multiple meanings. In the end, building empathy around diverging experiences helps the individual, team, and organization all grow stronger.