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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.

  • 5
    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
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    Be effusive in your praise of everyone and hope your colleagues are smart enough to figure out to do likewise. – Gaius Feb 22 at 14:29
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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.

  • 1
    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
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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.

-2

First of all, for feedback of this kind in general, you should absolutely be as truthful as possible, meaning everything you say should be rooted as closely as possible in the truth.

How candid you should be is another matter, and making that decision calls for further assessment of the context. Remember that the purpose of criticism is to be helpful. The more helpful you believe your feedback will ultimately be, the more candid you should feel comfortable being with it. There is little upside, for you or for the others, in unleashing criticism if it will do no good, while at the same time exposing yourself to the downside risks.

Second, while is it possible that it is genuine and will be helpful, superiors soliciting feedback from underlings about peers can be a recipe for disaster. On the surface, it is a potential indicator of a supervisor who is out of touch with his/her staff. A competent and functional one would know already both how the other person is performing, and what the third person thought of them as well. Feedback up and down the chain of command is very different than third-party feedback, which has a bit too much of the air of schoolyard gossip about it.

An incompetent and/or dysfunctional supervisor could create many types of small and great mischief with such a process. He/she could be simply seeking to validate a conclusion already reached about someone. He/she could share your feedback with anyone and everyone, including the subject. He/she could decide that you are actually the problem child based on your feedback.

Bottom line, I would be hesitant to provide such feedback in writing. This stuff can and will come back to bite you in the a**. I might be more comfortable talking about it in a more relaxed and interactive context, such as over lunch or coffee, where you can better read how your information is being received and tailor your message thus.

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