Oswald Letter

If Feedback Is All Positive, Results Can Be Negative

“How good am I?” is a question we all ask ourselves. We want to know how good we are at most things in our lives. We want to know how we’re doing in our relationships. Are you a good friend, spouse, or parent? We want to know how good we are at our hobbies. Are you a good piano player, golfer, or artist? In some cases, we can just ask those around us and they will freely tell us.  In others, there are competitions we can enter and be judged or measured against our peers.

But what about at work? How good are you at your job? It’s not something that we often ask our peers. Our spouse or significant other won’t likely be able to offer much insight. There is no competition to enter to compare yourself to others.

The answer to the question, “How good am I at my job?” is one that should come from your manager. And while this is a question that shouldn’t be answered just once each year, the performance appraisal is a great time for you to get in-depth feedback on your job performance from the person who should know best how you’re doing at work.

I’d like to encourage you to approach your next evaluation with an open and inquisitive mind. I say open because we all know what we want to hear. We want our boss to tell us we’re knocking it out of the park. We want to hear how invaluable we are. We want to hear how good we are.

But hearing how good we are doesn’t make us better. In fact, one could argue that it might cause us to become complacent — to rest on our laurels. That’s where the open mind comes in. I want you to be open to constructive criticism. I want you to be open to hearing about your weaknesses. I want you to be open to hearing about how you can get better.

And I ask that you also be inquisitive in your review. Don’t accept general statements, whether they are positive or negative. Ask for specifics. To improve, you must know what you could do better. If you’re being praised for something you’ve done well, ask how you could have done it even better.  If you’re being told that you need to work on a specific area, ask what you’ve done that has demonstrated this weakness and what you can do to make improvements. Be inquisitive.

This is the one time each year you sit down with the specific purpose of talking about your job performance. You have a captive audience with your supervisor. Take advantage of it. Don’t just be a spectator in your evaluation. Come to the meeting prepared with questions. Be ready to have a conversation about your performance. Take this opportunity to really learn and get better.

As I said, we all know what we want to hear in our evaluation. But if you just accept being told that you’re wonderful, fantastic, and great, you’re missing out. I’ve seen plenty of reviews written that are loaded with praise but lacking any real feedback on what can make the person a more valuable contributor. If you’re the recipient of that type of evaluation, I encourage you strongly to demand more from your boss. Challenge your manager to give you feedback that can really make you better. Because if you already perform your work perfectly, what do you have to look forward to?

So in this year’s evaluation, don’t only ask “How good am I?” but also “How can I get better?”

1 thought on “If Feedback Is All Positive, Results Can Be Negative”

  1. Dan:

    Good material as usual. Years ago I was in a training session lead by the late Mary Kay Ash. Yes, that Mary Kay!

    She told the group that we should “sandwich” criticism. Use a slice of praise, then the critical slice and close with one more slice of praise or encouragement.

    That has always stuck with me and I use it all the time. I tell anyone I am training the same thing; don’t just criticize the action or performance that was unacceptable — encourage the person, too!

    That builds loyalty and willingness to share information with a superior — even when it is bad news.

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