So, the thinking about 360° Feedback was actually prompted by an experience I had recently. It illustrates both the upside and the dark side of this trend in ‘anonymous’ feedback.
A colleague at my company, whom I consider to be a real friend, recently included me as a rater in a Leadership 360° Feedback experience that she initiated for herself. I do not work closely with this individual everyday but we are on a committee together and she has been incredibly helpful to me over the years in varied ways. I consider her to be an expert in her field and have nothing but fondness and respect for her.
I cheerfully filled out the multiple choice type questions rating her highest or very high in most dimensions, though on some, I had to say I had no experience. And then I got to the open ended comments. The instruments asked about strengths and I a rattled off a whole bunch of positive comments. And then I got to the section asking “how might this person improve?” And I was stumped. I thought the least I could do was offer something constructive and useful. And then it hit me. I had totally forgotten that about 6 months before, in a hideous meeting, my friend had really hurt my feelings with a few comments – feedback of her own to me about some work I had done. I had called in to the meeting, having been out of town for a few months, working virtually and it was an extremely busy time– by the time I got back to the office I had blanked out the whole event.
Now her comments to me were dead on – completely accurate. It was the way they were delivered that was hard to take. But I had never told her, and then I had forgotten all about it. And it would have stayed forgotten if she hadn’t asked for feedback. But she did. So I remembered. And I couldn’t see how writing about it ‘anonymously’ (ha ha, she would have immediately known it was me) was going to serve anyone. So I did a very hard thing. I picked up the phone and called her.
“There is something I need to talk to you about” I said, and then I spilled my guts. My friend was astonished, and appalled. Of course, hurting my feelings was the farthest thing from her intention. She was, of course, focused on clarity and getting the point across. I have never experienced any one taking feedback so gracefully. We both fell over ourselves in our efforts to express our esteem for the other, and it all turned out ok.
But it got me thinking – what if our relationship wasn’t so great? What if we didn’t have the mutual commitment to be ‘straight’ with each other? What if I hadn’t had it in me to screw up my courage and take the plunge? What if she weren’t such a fine human being and had gotten upset with me and I had damaged the relationship?