The Need for Feedback by Darren Oswick

Darren Oswick looks at the different ways in which men and women review themselves.

Spotlight series Darren Oswick

One of the things that has struck me when working with men and women is that I can behave in the same way to both, and yet the messages they take from that behaviour can be completely different.

The best example of this came from a recent appraisal round. I had the privilege of appraising two high performing female associates. They had both worked to extremely high standards during the year, and achieved very good grades. After the appraisals, they both expressed some relief that it was over, and that it had “gone ok”. I expressed some surprise about this – they were both strong performers, surely they must have known they would be getting a good review? Their responses surprised me even more – both essentially said “Well no-one told me that I was doing well, so I assume I was doing badly”.

I asked one of the male associates, also high performing, whether he had been labouring under the same misapprehension about his performance. He answered “No. No one told me I was doing badly, so I just assumed I was doing well.” His view reinforced my own – assume its fine (or even better than fine) unless someone tells you otherwise. But I was also struck by how different the experiences of working at the same firm, in the same group, for the same partners, to the same high levels, must have been for those three associates, even though they were getting exactly the same (lack of) feedback throughout the course of the year.

Everyone knows feedback is important – everyone can improve aspects of their performance and good quality feedback facilitates this. I had not previously considered the importance of regular feedback as part of ensuring that an employee understands they are doing really well (a sentence that sounds somewhat ridiculous even as I write it, but is nonetheless true). I’m sure some of us are better at feedback than others, but this is one of the (many) reasons why we need to get better as a firm.

My advice: 

  • Seek regular feedback – even if it’s not offered, people are usually very happy to give it when asked
  • Don’t assume that everyone will be affected (or unaffected) in the same way by your particular working style 

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