Descriptive versus evaluative feedback

What was your reaction the first time you heard your voice on an answering machine? Or the first time you watched yourself on videotape? It is a common reaction to think, "That's not me!" or "I don't sound like that!"

A similar outcome can happen when managers within a company attempt to provide feedback to their employees. Without taking the time to create descriptive feedback, it can be very easy to put team members on edge when they are undergoing an employee appraisal. However, the 360 degree assessment can help companies avoid this outcome. The key is not only communication, but ensuring that the employee being evaluated understands that he or she is not being attacked.

"Descriptive feedback can facilitate behavior change," Larry Cipolla, president and director of CCi Surveys International, wrote in his book. "Evaluative feedback can facilitate defensive behavior."

For example, using emotionally or physically descriptive feedback can be more beneficial for the participant. By using the phrase, "I feel" to explain how an employee's acts have an impact will have more positive results than simply placing blame on that contributor.

The purpose of 360 feedback is to create constructive criticism that will not force a participant to feel defensive. If a manager simply tells an employee that his or her behavior is childish and unprofessional, it will be more difficult to find a solution. However, if leadership explains that when a participant acted a certain way, it was confusing to them, that is more descriptive without being overtly negative.

The 360 feedback process is designed to help employees – and then the business as a whole – undergo positive change. Learning from mistakes is the best way to move forward, but employees must understand that their managers are willing to work with them.

Brenda MacLean