When I was working in student government during university, I would occasionally be asked to provide anonymous feedback about one of my colleagues. I was assured this feedback would be seen only by our advisor and the administration president.

How honest should I be in performance review feedback items such as this? I like to believe that I provide constructive criticism in my insights/observations, but I'm curious if there are limits to how honest one should be about one's colleagues' performance.

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    100% honest. Perhaps you mean "How open should I be..." or "How much should I criticize colleagues in anonymous reviews?" – Michael Durrant Jun 7 '12 at 0:39

This is a very tough one. I've been in peer review processes that are similar — that specifically ask for "something they could do better".

Here's how I approach it:

  • Be as honest as possible, but only about things you believe will help the team. There's no use pointing out a character flaw where there is no possibility of helping the team improve.
  • Keep in mind that, as a peer, your perspective on the issue is limited
  • Try to relate it to their strengths. "While he does such a good job focusing on X, paying more attention to Y might produce even better results"
  • Keep in mind that some people are just different, and that's why teams can work so well. Sometimes telling a person to be better at Y will make them worse at X. This is where managers and peers should recognize each others' strengths and help make the puzzle fit in the best way possible.

I actually like thinking about it the way the question was phrased on our surveys: "Describe how [person] can be more effective in his or her role." This helps me frame all feedback in a positive light, not negative.

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    I like the phrasing from your survey (in fact I may steal it for ours!) – voretaq7 Apr 11 '12 at 23:27
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    I particularly like your 3rd point. I find negative reviews can usually be softened by some positive comments about what the user is doing correctly. – Rachel Apr 20 '12 at 20:22

There is an unfortunate reality of doing these kinds of reviews: Everything hidden becomes known even if the feedback could only be seen by an advisor or administration president.

If a person performing the review mentions some of your constructive criticisms to a person, there are ways of determining who left it, so be careful of being too insightful if you have to continue working with these people. If you want to leave criticism leave them as generic as possible.

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