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Getting the Most Out of Performance Feedback

Enterprise UX

Designing experiences for people at work

A column by Jonathan Walter
February 8, 2021

With another new year upon us, now would be a great time to reflect upon your career growth and performance as a UX professional. One of the most effective ways of improving both your performance and your growth potential is through the feedback you receive from your peers, superiors, and subordinates.

However, contrary to what many people might believe, the exchange of high-quality feedback isn’t solely the responsibility of the person providing the feedback. It is equally important for the person receiving feedback to endeavor to ensure that the feedback is actionable, constructive, and conducive to his or her growth. In this column, I’ll provide some tips on what you can do before, during, and after receiving performance feedback to maximize its impact and ensure that it ultimately contributes to your growth.

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Before Receiving Feedback

First, let’s consider some things you can do prior to receiving feedback, as follows:

  • asking the right questions
  • adopting a growth mindset
  • assuming good intent

Asking the Right Questions

Many large companies use document templates or standard Web-based forms that time-crunched employees can use to give and receive feedback. Often, these templates and forms have the following format:

  • What are [insert name]’s strengths?
  • What are [insert name]’s growth opportunities?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share?

While open-ended questions such as these can be helpful in uncovering opportunities that employees might not otherwise have known about, they do not target specific areas in which employees might want to grow. However, it is unlikely that your company has strict rules requiring you to use a rigid template for requesting feedback—and nothing else.

So consider asking other, more specific questions that align with your goals for growth, even if that requires you to create a separate document, form, or email message. Do not settle for using just templated questions, because you would likely receive only templated answers—many of which would not be conducive to your unique wants and needs for growth. How do you want to improve?

Let’s look at one tactic I’ve found effective and have seen others use successfully. In addition to asking open-ended questions such as “What are the top three things I can improve upon?” ask specific goal-oriented questions that relate to your function. These questions might derive from a meeting or interaction you’ve had with the person whose feedback you’re soliciting. Consider the following examples:

  • How well did I present my UX design wireframes during the stakeholder meeting about [insert topic]? What could I improve?
  • How useful were the user-research findings I collected and shared with [insert product team or stakeholder]?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate my ability to facilitate design-critique sessions? (Plus, you should provide an area or field for additional comments.)

By asking both open-ended questions and specific questions that align with your desired areas for growth, you can improve your ability to receive well-rounded feedback that is insightful, constructive, and growth oriented. Understanding how you want to grow is the key to knowing what questions to ask. If you’re unsure about how to best identify your desired path for growth, I covered this topic in my columnGrowing Your Career as a Multi-disciplinary UX Designer, Part 1.”

Plus, nothing should limit you to asking your questions within a specific timeframe for performance reviews—such as at the end or midpoint of your company’s fiscal year. You should be constantly growing and learning, so soliciting feedback from others should be an ongoing activity as well.

Finally, if you cannot make changes to any document template or Web form that your company uses, by all means create your own. The potential to fulfill your unique growth needs deserves the extra effort. You might even use SurveyMonkey or some other online-survey tool. Surveys are highly customizable and convenient ways of giving and soliciting feedback, so why not create one for your professional growth?

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Adopting a Growth Mindset

Most people don’t like receiving feedback. It can be difficult to confront our growth opportunities, which often mean we need to change something—and change can be inconvenient if not scary. However, receiving feedback is supposed to make you better. So, if you change the way you mentally prepare yourself for receiving feedback, it could even become something you look forward to receiving.

Many have written about having a growth mindset, so I won’t describe this at length in this column. However, it’s worth pointing out that people who have a growth mindset believe their skills and areas of knowledge are malleable. Even if they don’t know something yet, they are confident they would eventually figure it out, because they’ve given themselves permission to be imperfect as they grow. Their professional growth is a journey, not a destination or a matter of binary assessment that their skills are either good or bad.

Try to adopt a growth mindset before receiving feedback during a performance-review meeting or reading a document that a peer has sent you, providing written feedback. Not only does a growth mindset help you receive feedback with a positive, growth-oriented attitude, it can have a profound impact on the person giving you feedback, too—especially if they’re exchanging feedback during a meeting, which I’ll get to later.

Assuming Good Intent

The feedback that people give you reflects their perceptions about you. Right or wrong, they have been asked to communicate their perceptions and are entitled to do so—assuming that they provide their feedback professionally—despite their imperfections and awkwardness as they share it. Grant them some latitude. We often underestimate how difficult it is for people to provide feedback, especially if that feedback could be perceived as negative. Giving someone feedback that pinpoints their growth opportunities can be stressful. How might the person receive the feedback? Might they react defensively? Might they become withdrawn or discouraged?

The individual providing you with feedback that illuminates your growth opportunities probably isn’t doing so because they enjoy criticizing you. Assume that they want to help you be better. By assuming their good intent, you demonstrate empathy toward the person giving you feedback. After all, as UX professionals, empathy should be a key behavior that we exhibit when engaging with or endeavoring to understand the users of the products or services we work on. Why should your behavior be different when soliciting feedback on your own performance? By inviting all feedback with an open, positive attitude, you can show that you embody the important qualities that UX professionals possess, regardless of the situation or context.

The result? Not only would you benefit from the feedback you receive, you would also open a channel of communication through which you could feel comfortable providing candid feedback, too. Over time, your example would help foster a culture of honesty and mutual respect.

When Receiving Feedback

The effort you put into receiving high-quality feedback should not end once you’ve sent someone a feedback request form or document. It is just as important to make the same level of effort when you’re receiving feedback—especially during an in-person or virtual meeting for that purpose. Here are some tips for maximizing feedback opportunities during discussions:

  • being mindful of your own behavior
  • asking clarifying questions
  • requesting a follow-up feedback session, if necessary

Being Mindful of Your Own Behavior

A growth mindset is palpable, especially when we experience interacting in person with someone with such a mindset. People experience our mindset through our behaviors and the ways in which we communicate—whether verbal or nonverbal. People providing feedback become increasingly comfortable and candid in making their comments if you project a growth mindset and demonstrate that you’re invested in hearing what they have to share. This, in turn, encourages them to open up further, leading to more growth opportunities for you. So, whenever you’re receiving feedback in person, ensure that you do the following:

  • Maintain eye contact and demonstrate that you’re giving your undivided attention. In other words, avoid looking elsewhere such as at your phone or, if you’re meeting online, another window that is open on your screen—a very common habit in our increasingly virtual workplaces.
  • Nod or verbally communicate encouragement if you sense someone’s hesitancy to share constructive feedback.
  • Thank the person providing feedback during any breaks in your conversation, demonstrating your appreciation and encouraging that person to open up further.
  • Ask clarifying questions whenever necessary, especially if you encounter any of the scenarios I’ll describe in the following section.

Asking Clarifying Questions

There are few behaviors that demonstrate your investment in what a person is sharing as much as asking questions to probe more deeply into their comments. As I mentioned earlier, providing feedback can be difficult and awkward. This can lead to misunderstandings and even missed growth opportunities. But you can help steer your dialogue with someone who is giving you feedback, keeping the conversation or written exchange going smoothly and remaining respectful, ensuring that you get all the feedback you need. Consider the following scenarios.

  • You received vague feedback. Receiving a vague comment about a growth opportunity is not conducive to your growth. It is a templated answer. If you receive vague feedback, ask a question such as the following: “I understand that [enter feedback opportunity] is something I should work on, but could you be more specific so I can better learn and grow from your feedback? Is there an instance in which you’ve observed this happening?”
  • You received inadequate feedback. Some people are brusque, harried, or simply are not really invested in providing adequate feedback. Inadequate feedback inhibits growth opportunities for you. But nothing is stopping you from probing more deeply into their comments. If you receive inadequate feedback, ask a question such as the following: “Thank you for providing feedback on [insert growth opportunity]. But I’ll need more information for me to learn from that feedback and grow. Could you elaborate or perhaps share an example?” If the person providing feedback doesn’t have anything more that is useful to share, move on.
  • You received incorrect feedback. As I mentioned earlier, people giving feedback are entitled to their own perceptions. However, if they’ve based their perceptions on erroneous information, it is your right to correct them and refocus the dialogue on feedback that is truly germane to your growth. Respond to such feedback with an acknowledgment such as the following: “I understand why you might think that [insert behavior or action] was a result of [insert whatever background is necessary].” Then explain the background scenario that contributed to the behaviors or actions they’ve identified. This lets you redirect their feedback to something that is more conducive to your growth. Consider following up with this comment: “But you make an interesting point. How can I better avoid situations that lead to such perceptions in the future?” By acknowledging their perceptions, you validate both them and their perceptions—even if they’re not based on factual information. Also, notice that I’m not suggesting you say “your perception,” which would single out the individual. If people feel that they part of a collective, shared effort, it becomes easier to steer conversations back to their objective—a constructive dialogue that focuses on your growth.

Requesting a Follow-up Feedback Session, If Necessary

Finally, do not limit the exchange of performance feedback to a single meeting or written communication. Consider it an open dialogue—especially if you’ve received feedback that necessitates your probing more deeply into an action or behavior. Regardless of whether you’re receiving feedback in person, ask the person providing the feedback whether they would be okay with your following up with them during another meeting or through a written exchange such as email messages. Don’t assume that someone is aware that you have a continuous growth mindset so would be open to a series of dialogues.

Unfortunately, the templated feedback construct that many large companies use has contributed to a shared perception that feedback exchanges are discrete, time-restricted activities that happen only once or twice a year. Employees internalize this as part of the company’s culture. This should not be the case. Through your growth mindset and the actions you take, you can help drive a cultural shift. Most people react favorably to having follow-up discussions if you project a growth mindset and adequately set their expectations.

After Receiving Feedback

The people who have given you feedback have invested in you—especially if their feedback was thoughtful, constructive, and growth oriented. They have taken time out of their busy schedule to help you grow. Thank them and offer to reciprocate in the future should they want your feedback.

Now, take an inventory of the feedback you’ve received. Is it useful? Could it help you to grow? Is the feedback conducive to helping you grow in the way you want to grow? If not, why? Remember, the person receiving feedback plays just as important a role as the person offering feedback. Have you followed up enough to understand the perceptions of the person who has provided the feedback to you? Did you ask clarifying questions to ensure that you would get the most out of what they had to share? If not, be sure to follow up further to get any clarifications you need. Your growth deserves your making that extra effort.

However, you do not have to act upon everyone’s feedback. You might simply disagree with it. If so, reflect upon your perceptions. Why do you disagree with the feedback you received? Did the feedback suggest a growth opportunity that diverges from or goes beyond your desired path for growth? Does it indicate a change in your behavior that you feel would be too challenging to undertake? Does it seem unrealistic to you?

Before you dismiss any feedback with which you disagree, be completely honest with yourself. Truly understanding why you do not want to accept certain feedback is a step toward understanding your desired path for growth. Live in the problem space for a while. Recognize that other people can see qualities in you that you might not immediately perceive in yourself. While critical self-reflection can be challenging, great growth does not come without self-honesty and meeting challenges head on. Then, once you feel that you understand the reasons behind your desire to either act upon feedback or reject it, leverage your understanding in helping to define your desired path for growth.

Conclusion

Performance feedback is an essential tool for achieving professional growth, and you can control the quality of the feedback that you receive. To ensure that you receive high-quality feedback, ask the right questions, adopt a growth mindset, and assume the good intent of the people providing the feedback. This, in turn, enhances your ability to accept the feedback with an open, positive attitude, while maximizing the opportunities it presents.

Be aware of your own behavior when receiving feedback and accept the imperfections of the people who are sharing their feedback with you. Whenever opportunities arise, ask clarifying questions that can help you steer the exchange of feedback into ground that is conducive to achieving your desired growth path. Also, request additional follow-ups, if necessary, ensuring that the person giving you feedback continually remains aware of your growth mindset. Enable them to participate in your journey toward professional growth .

Finally, express gratitude to the people who have taken time out of their busy schedule to give you constructive, growth-oriented feedback. Reflect upon the feedback they have provided, as well as your perception of it. Be honest with yourself—especially if you feel challenged by any changes they’ve suggested. Great growth cannot occur without your meeting great challenges. Always be an active participant in your growth. 

User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell Automation

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Jonathan WalterJon has a degree in Visual Communication Design from the University of Dayton, as well as experience in Web development, interaction design, user interface design, user research, and copywriting. He spent eight years at Progressive Insurance, where his design and development skills helped shape the #1 insurance Web site in the country, progressive.com. Jon’s passion for user experience fueled his desire to make it his full-time profession. In 2013, Jon joined Rockwell Automation, where he designs software products for some of the most challenging environments in the world. In 2020, Jon became User Experience Team Lead at Rockwell, where he balances design work with managing a cross-functional team of UX professionals.  Read More

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