Everyone loves to hate on annual performance reviews. Pick your criticism–they’re formulaic, too late to matter, or unfair.
Susan Heathfield, management consultant, company owner, and author of the human resources site for About.com, says over the years, she’s seen “every dysfunctional approach to doing this.” Managers of high-performing teams are forced to give someone a low rank to preserve the curve. She observed one review where “the manager talked for 60 straight minutes. Seriously. That is not my recommended approach.”
But work isn’t the only place where the feedback loop is broken. We’re even less accountable in our personal lives, Heathfield explains. “The people who love you don’t often tell you the truth,” she says. A boss may have to document performance, but a lover, a child, and a friend “appreciates a wave-less relationship, where the sailing is smooth.”
That’s understandable, but it’s also a missed opportunity. “Knowing what people really think, and seeing for sure how your behavior is perceived in the world, is really a powerful tool for living a successful life,” adds Heathfield.
As you sulk about your professional annual performance review, it might not be a bad idea to ask for performance reviews in your personal life. It’s not totally crazy. Jennifer Breheny Wallace wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year about giving her husband and others such reviews. “Outside the office, I’ve found that they can also open up a whole new way of communicating with family and close friends,” she wrote.
Note the ways to do this right. “You have to be absolutely open to it,” says Heathfield. “The first time you ask for it, and you’re given a frank word or two, your stance needs to not be defensive.”
Thank the person and stay calm. Even a hint of anger will turn your loved ones off from offering honest feedback again. That’s self-preservation. Unlike your colleagues, they may not be able to go home at the end of the day to get away from you.
Then, try to read between the lines. “People are not masters of words,” says Heathfield. A manager at least has practice giving performance feedback. Your teenager doesn’t. Try open-ended questions: “Let me understand this more. Under what circumstances do you see this behavior from me?”
Try giving the person the same categories an ideal work performance review would cover: how you did, how you can improve, and how you need to grow. If you want to be a great mom or dad, husband, neighbor, sister, or team member, then you must ask: “What am I doing well? What am I doing horribly? What would you like to see change?”
Any feedback must be taken with a grain of salt. I tried asking my seven-year-old for feedback the other day. I was given low marks for enforcing bedtime and school attendance, neither of which I feel any need to change. However, my son also mentioned that he gave me high marks for the times I drove him places, particularly without his brother and sister in the car.
So today I’m finishing this essay in time to pick him up at an after-school class. Implementing what you can of personal performance feedback is a good way to build trust.
“If you’re creating an environment in which honest feedback is the norm, you’re going to get a lot more of it,” says Heathfield. That’s a key to better relationships–at work and at home.