Employee guide: How to be more open to peer feedback

Many employees mistakenly see feedback simply as the company’s way of assessing who gets a raise, a promotion or who gets fired. You may have noticed that this mindset can elicit different reactions in your team members.

When people are overconfident in their abilities they may see feedback as a waste of time and as a confirmation of what they already know. For others, the idea of being individually scrutinized can be extremely nerve wracking. Going into a performance review with this type of mindset will prevent you from seeing feedback for what it really is, an opportunity for improvement.

What do you get out of feedback?

Most employees only receive feedback once a year. This can leave you in the dark about whether you are on the right track or not. Feedback can be a guide to understanding your manager’s expectations and more importantly, can be a chance to improve your performance. Imagine you keep encountering the same obstacle to your work and don’t receive advice on how to resolve the issue until your annual performance review. Once you’ve made a change, you then have to wait until the next year to hear whether the changes you made were effective. Feedback is not just useful to identify areas for improvement, it can also give you ideas on how to streamline your work and set new goals for yourself.

Even if your work output and quality are top notch, being a top performer is also dependent on your interpersonal skills. Sara Canaday, author of You - According to Them: Uncovering the blindspots that impact your reputation and your career, asserts that one of the most important things you can learn from feedback is the inadvertent behavior you may be displaying in the workplace. Do people see you as highly productive and innovative or rebellious and uncooperative? Decisive and candid or abrupt and insensitive? Misperceptions in the workplace are common and can lead to a destructive atmosphere if not addressed. This is where getting peer feedback can be most helpful. Using it to identify when your actions are being misinterpreted will help you to adjust the signals you are sending others.

Changing your mindset

You know going to the gym is good for you, but leaving the comfort of your couch after a long day of work can result in an internal battle. Similarly, even if you know feedback is good for you, it can still be uncomfortable or even intimidating to put yourself out there. Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, suggests that this comes down to a change in mindset. According to her research, people with a fixed mindset see their abilities as static. When they are given feedback they are more likely to see it as an affront to their set character and intelligence, making them defensive rather than open to constructive criticism. Alternatively, those with a growth mindset see their abilities as malleable traits that are meant to be constantly improved.

To figure out which type of mindset you have, think about the last time you received constructive criticism. Did you try to argue against the feedback you were given? Did you feel embarrassed or emotional? If so, these are signs that you may display a fixed mindset. If instead you normally seek out constructive comments, and see feedback as a way to see a project in a new light or fix any holes, you most likely have a growth based mindset. One of the key differences is that people with a growth mindset are able to see performance reviews as an opportunity to learn. Their ability to process feedback in this way also makes them less afraid of making mistakes, leaving more room for innovation.

The same goes for your company. It’s not enough to create one great product and hope it stands the test of time, instead it’s important to constantly innovate and reassess based on customer reviews (aka feedback).

As an employee you will not only need to adjust your attitude towards receiving feedback, but will also have to become comfortable giving it. Giving more feedback is useful in transitioning to a growth mindset as it encourages you to see feedback from the reviewer’s perspective, as well meaning advice on your performance. If giving your manager constructive feedback still seems intimidating, not to worry, most apps allow you to give anonymous feedback. However, anonymity should not be misused to give exclusively positive (or for that matter dangerously negative) comments. In the ongoing shift towards a feedback culture, learning how to give effective positive and constructive feedback will become more important than ever. The ability to influence improvements to the work environment is up for grabs, and those with a growth mindset will benefit the most.

If you feel you may still be harboring some fixed mindset tendencies, here are some steps that will help change your perspective:

1. Ask for more feedback

Now that we’ve explained why feedback is so important for your professional development, how do you go about getting it? You don’t have to wait for an annual review to get feedback. Ask for feedback more often to get more comfortable with receiving it, and to help you ‘update’ improvements to your performance. It’s important to remember that many people are just as uncomfortable giving feedback as they are receiving it. Asking more specific questions about your performance will help you glean better information. For example, asking yes or no questions can be useful when you need a straightforward answer, while open-ended questions allow you to extract more detailed information. Targeted questions will also encourage others to give you an honest assessment and signal to them that you really want their opinion – be it positive or constructive. Learn more on how to ask for feedback here.

2. Use multiple sources

You don’t have to rely on your manager; also seek out senior employees, peers or someone external who can act as coaches. This can be beneficial in giving you a different perspective on your performance from people who may work with you more directly. The best way to get insightful feedback is to ask for it after completing a specific project or task so your performance will still be fresh in their mind. Also be sure to explain what you’re looking for. For example, if you have difficulties speaking in public, send a message to your intended reviewer right after giving a presentation. Explain to them that public speaking is something you feel uncomfortable with and ask them to evaluate the delivery of your presentation.

A word of caution, it may be tempting to ask people you know will only give you positive feedback. While praise is also helpful in learning what your strengths are, it is important to identify any practices that might be inhibiting your work. The best feedback comes from people who will be honest and objective in their assessment.

3. Process your feedback into professional development

It’s not enough just to get more feedback, it’s what you do with this information that will help you see results. Whether positive or constructive criticism, it’s important to take some time to read and analyze the results, then plan effective changes to your work style. See the following guides on receiving positive and constructive feedback to help you process your results.

4. Give back

If you receive helpful feedback from your manager or a peer return the favor. As employees are encouraged more and more to give feedback, take advantage of being on the other side of the review process. The ability to give effective feedback is a powerful tool that can help to diffuse tensions between colleagues when working on a team project, or allow you to point out concerns to your manager. Furthermore, giving others feedback will encourage you to see your own performance reviews differently. Learn more about giving effective feedback in our following guides.

Summary and takeaways

Make the most out of your performance reviews by changing your mindset towards the way you perceive feedback. Rather than going on the defensive, learn to see feedback as a way to develop and improve your professional and interpersonal skills. Steps to follow:

Download and read our guide From Zero to 360 Feedback to help turn those insights into action.

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