It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Chris Sowers
Dec 22, 2017 · 3 min read
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

That’s right, ’tis the season for performance reviews. All across this great corporate landscape of ours, in large companies and small, public institutions and private, managers and employees alike are making their lists of accomplishments for the year and checking them twice.

We’re digging through the year’s worth of emails, looking back at our calendars, sifting through months-old project folders and handwritten notes, looking for any shred of a reminder of something we can include in our year-end self-assessments.

Many of us are also doing something else that goes along with all of this — requesting stakeholder feedback. Racking our brains to come up with a handful of colleagues we can send the requests to. Those we worked with closely enough so they can write about how wonderful we are, what a true pleasure we are to work with, and what small opportunities we have for improvement.

Then we get the feedback returned and the realization hits. What a colossal waste of time. I could actually save them all the trouble and write it myself. It’d go something like this:

Over the course of 2017, I worked with Chris on the [insert project name] project. He was an absolute [pleasure / joy] to work with. His [attention to detail / leadership / work ethic] was second-to-none and had a very positive impact on the project. I [did not notice / did not work closely enough to observe / cannot comment on] any opportunities for improvement, other than to say [keep doing what you’re doing / keep up the great work]. I look forward to working more with Chris in 2018!


Seriously. That’s what we get. Completely devoid of meaning and utterly useless. Might as well program a bot to write it. There’s probably an app for that.

Feedback has a singular purpose — to impact future behavior. When we receive positive feedback, we’re more likely to engage in the same behavior in the future. And that’s why we give positive feedback — to get more of a behavior that we want. Conversely, negative feedback is solely intended to get less of a behavior that we don’t want.

When we ask for feedback, we really want to know what we’re doing that’s helping, so that we can do more of it. And what we’re doing that’s not-so-helpful, so that we can do less of it.

When we ask for feedback, we’re really asking for advice.


So stop asking for feedback, and start asking for advice. Feedback is too difficult to give, and we’ve been burned too many times. We’ve given actual feedback, only to have the recipient get defensive, justify their behavior, and argue with us. We’ve given actual feedback, only to have it blow up in our face. So we don’t give actual feedback anymore. We say things like, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Yeah. Helpful.

Where feedback is hard, advice is easy. I’m quite happy to give you advice, especially if you ask for it, since it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get defensive or argue. It’s just advice. You can take it or leave it.

Instead of “What feedback do you have for me?” try the following:

What advice do you have for me?
What advice do you have that would help me be a better colleague? A better leader?
What advice would you give to help me communicate more effectively?
What advice would you give me to help me be more effective?

Instead of asking for feedback, try asking for advice, phrased similarly to the questions above.

And guess what you’ll really be getting… feedback, and lots of it.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Chris Sowers

Written by

I love writing and coaching other writers. Find me at https://www.coach.me/Chris11873?ref=QOvEv or https://www.writing-coaching.com/.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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