The role of emotions in performance feedback discussions

Lately I have been reading quite a few blogs on the topic of performance feedback and how to try to make feedback a more valuable process. Recently I came across Bob Marshall’s post:

How to give Feedback

I’ve already had great discussion with @adaptivecoach on the Core Protocols and their potential impact to the communication process. You can see my previous post here:

My Core Protocol Check-in

After reading these different perspectives, I find myself aligned most with Steve Rogalsky’s post. Which is very fortunate since we work together at Protegra and on the same project. 🙂

A Systems Thinking alternative to Performance Feedback

After thinking about all these different approaches, I thought I would add my thoughts to the discussion.

Feedback Guidelines

I try to follow some simple guidelines for my performance feedback discussions. I believe the feedback process should have four simple components:

1)      Agreement on my view of the project’s expectations of you

2)      Feedback on my perception of your project actions versus the agreed expectations

3)      Agreement on your view of the project’s expectations of me

4)      Feedback on your perception of my project actions versus the agreed expectations

Once there is agreement on the expectations, we can have productive discussions in the future. These expectations can be as vague or as detailed as both people desire. The key here is to have a baseline that can be used for future discussions. It is patently unfair to provide feedback to someone if you haven’t previously agreed what was expected. These expectations can be both subjective and objective. I would recommend that at least 50% are objective criteria though. It is very important to have a good percentage of objective criteria for discussion. Subjective criteria are, well, subjective. 🙂

The formality of these discussions can be modified to fit the situation and personalities of the people involved. I prefer to always have them face-to-face via back and forth conversations.

Feedback questions

Steve Rogalsky provided some great questions in his recent post and my questions don’t stray too much from his. The questions I like to have as part of a feedback discussion are:

1)      How do you think you have done?

2)      What is your opinion of how I have done?

3)      What did you enjoy most about your work?

4)      What would you like to do in the future?

5)      What would you like me to do differently in the future?

6)      What are you most proud of that you have done recently?

7)      How should we change the expectation agreements we have with each other?

As you can see, my preferred questions are a bit different from Steve’s in that they don’t have the questions grounded in Systems Thinking. But I think we both find our questions productive in generating a productive feedback discussion.

The role of emotion

The one thought that I had after reading these different sources is that my approach does have one significant difference from the Core Protocols and Bob Marshall’s post.

My perspective is that emotion should be left out of feedback discussions. Unlike the Core Protocols and Bob Marshall’s post, I believe that grounding feedback discussion in the emotions of individuals is inappropriate. It can lead to more subjective review that may be not providing the details required to help the individual improve objectively. It can introduce personal biases and agendas into the discussion.

There is also a subtle difference in the feedback questions I prefer that I believe is critical. I believe my wording change makes the process less hierarchical. Instead of the focus on personal emotions, the grounding is on the project requirements.

How have your actions made me feel vs. How have your actions contributed to the project

I believe this is key. By grounding the expectations and feedback on the project, we can reduce personal bias and hierarchical thinking. (we are both there as peers to contribute to the project)

It should be a true peer-to-peer system where we all evaluate each other and our contributions to the project. I believe having feedback discussion grounded in the project also encourages more feedback as it is more objective and less hierarchical. It is still a perception, but it isn’t how you have made me feel,  it is have I perceive you have delivered to the agreed project expectations. I think it makes the discussions less of a personal, confrontational nature.

It is an un-emotional discussion on this is what we agreed to was important for the project and this is how we perceived each other’s contributions. Let’s work together now to determine how we can improve for the next time.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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