Performance Management Blog

When Feedback Seems to Fall on Deaf Ears

Posted by Jamie Resker on Oct 23, 2012 9:58:00 AM

describe the imageHave you ever been given feedback that didn't seem to fit with your perception of your performance? What did you do about it? If you're like most people, you dismissed it. Why? Because that's one of the things we do. We take in information and try to make sense of it using our mental model, view or experience of the world. When we're told something that doesn’t match or fit with our mental model, we typically dismiss it as false.

It's one of the reasons why performance appraisals are hard for managers and employees and can have little impact on employee performance. If the employee is given feedback or ratings that don't fit with the way they see themselves, they write it off, and nothing changes.

So what can you as a manager do about that?

Foster Some Introspection and Self-Knowledge

True change is always motivated from within. A person has to personally recognize a need for change before they will act. So fostering introspection and self-knowledge can be an important way to support employee performance and development.

Asking each employee to complete a self-appraisal can be an effective way to do that. It challenges them to examine their performance as you their manager will, and to honestly evaluate it, and identify areas of strength and areas for development. Now for this to truly work, there needs to be a relationship of trust between the manager and employee; no one is going to admit weakness to someone they don't feel safe with. Your employee needs to honestly feel that you as their manager have their best interests and development at heart, and that it's OK to not be perfect some of the time.

In addition to fostering introspection and self-knowledge, self-evaluations have a way of introducing more accountability to the whole performance appraisal process and to the workplace as a whole. They let the employee know that they are responsible for their performance, development and improvement.

Finally, having your employee complete a self-assessment gives you, their manager, insight into their perceptions of themselves. It helps you to know ahead of time if they are open to the feedback you're going to provide, and can give you clues for guiding your conversations with them in a more effective way.

Reinforce the Feedback

When I hear something once that doesn't fit with my image of myself, I'm likely to dismiss it. If I hear it repeatedly, from multiple sources, I'm likely to start questioning the feedback and myself. It can help me see myself through others' eyes, and form a new image of myself as a result. That's one of the great advantages of 360 degree feedback. It lets me hear the same feedback multiple times, from several different sources.

When employees receive the same or similar feedback in this way, they tend to find it more credible. They also can get more details and concrete examples about their behavior and its impact, helping them better understand what it is they need to change and why. It can also help you as a manager, get a broader perspective on your employees' performance and perhaps even shift your perspective or mental model.


Unless there is some congruence between the feedback you give your employees and their perceptions of themselves and their performance, your feedback is likely to have little impact. You can help ensure greater congruence by supporting your employees in acquiring greater self-knowledge and perspective, and by establishing a safe, ongoing dialogue with them about their performance and development

This post was submitted by Sean Conrad.  Sean works for Halogen Software and helps companies provide their managers with the tools and skills they need to effectively manage their workforce. You can read more of his thoughts on the art of management on the Halogen "Exploring talent management" blog