Can You Trust That Feedback?

by Cynthia on May 25, 2010

Good feedback is a valuable tool for developing high-level performance. It provides fresh insight, assists in effective decision-making, and fuels innovation. But what happens when the individuals and institutions we trust to make expert assessments do not act in good faith?

The resulting scandals make headlines:

These stories highlight the high stakes associated with assessments, and the need to “consider the source” with some healthy skepticism.

Assessing the Assessor

One of our clients – we’ll call him Dan – faced a similar situation: Dan had taken a colleague’s advice on how to handle a tricky HR situation, with disastrous results. It was only later that Dan realized his colleague was motivated more by competitive drive than by a genuine desire to help.

What went wrong? Although Dan considered his colleague’s expertise, he had neglected to think about trustworthiness.

Receiving feedback well is as much a skill as giving good feedback. It requires deep listening, open-mindedness, and an ability to evaluate the evaluator: Does she have the requisite expertise to provide useful feedback? Can he be trusted to apply his expertise in a fair and impartial manner?

Identifying Low-Quality Assessments

You are probably accustomed to evaluating the expertise of someone who is providing feedback, but what about that person’s trustworthiness? To protect yourself from assessments driven by self-interest, consider these three factors:

  1. Reputation: Have you seen the person who is giving feedback do the right thing in the past? Does he have a track record of being reliable and sincere?
  2. Motive: Does the person doing the assessment have a reason to be less than candid? Does she stand to benefit from the feedback she is providing?
  3. Rationale: Does any part of the corporate culture provide rationales for borderline – or even downright unethical – behavior, like Wall Street did?

At Aperio we help clients learn to give, receive, and evaluate feedback. We’ve found that most people are honest, and the feedback they provide is well-intentioned.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you ever received feedback that was not in your best interest? Did you recognize it at the time? What factors did you consider in evaluating your evaluator? We hope you’ll share your story.

And if you have questions about how to evaluate feedback, this is the place to ask them.

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