Can Peer Feedback Lead to Better Self-Awareness?

Can Peer Feedback Lead to Better Self-Awareness?
Image credit: Matt Niemi | Flickr
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"Wisest is she who knows she does not know."

-- Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World 

Self-awareness is not a term often used in the workplace. But for the individual employee, it's vital to have the ability to monitor and understand personal moods, emotions, performance and drives. According to Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, self-awareness can directly translate into better professional and personal choices and result in more fulfilling careers. 

During interviews, people often pay lip service to self-awareness, giving stock replies to questions about their strengths and weaknesses.  

Yet a strong sense of self-awareness doesn’t just help employees. It also can be critical to a company's success. After analyzing the self-assessments of nearly 7,000 professionals at 486 publicly traded companies, a 30-month study by the Korn Ferry Institute found “blind spots,” differences between employees' self-reported skills and the ratings of their peers. The study concluded that employees at “poor-performing companies” were 79 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness, compared with the workers at companies with the highest rates of return.

One of the best ways to promote self-awareness among employees is to foster a culture of peer feedback, one whereby employees give feedback to one another (rather than managers just providing it).

Here are four key ways peer feedback can be applied to improve employee self-awareness:

Related: To Boost Productivity, Encourage Employees to Encourage Each Other

1. Promoting constructive commentary.

Positive feedback is a great driver of personal improvement, according to a survey done by Globoforce and the Society of Human Resource Management in March 2013. Ninety-four percent of the respondents surveyed at more than 800 companies agreed that positive feedback is a better motivator than negative feedback.

Because people often take peer feedback personally, its impact on future performance can't be underestimated. Encourage employees to give one another specific feedback in concrete suggestions and explanations. Keep the criticism constructive and offer frequent positive reinforcement. 

When individual employees take the time to carefully assess their peers' performance, they often consider how they themselves might be reviewed. Such inward evaluation can provide valuable perspective on their own productivity and work contributions.

2. Popularizing recognition.

When encouraged to consider how others’ actions affect them personally and reward their peers’ positive behavior accordingly, employees are more likely to be conscientious about how their contributions affect other team members.

Prompt employees to recognize one another by weighing how their colleagues' contributions affect them personally. Recognition notes with messages like “Thank you for remembering to talk about that during the presentation. You really saved my speech” and “I couldn’t have solved the problem without you” can demonstrate to employees the positive impact that their efforts have on one another and make them feel significant in their roles.

3. Requesting improvement.

When an employee’s work needs improvement, feedback from peers might be effective.

Tiny HR surveyed more than 200,000 employees over the course of a year (through August 2013) at 500 organizations worldwide and found that peer camaraderie is the # 1 reason for employees' going the extra mile.

Similarly, another Globoforce study last year, surveying 708 individuals at U.S. businesses with more than 500 employees, found that those “who already have peer feedback as part of their performance review feel more appreciated (85 percent) and more satisfied with their jobs (88 percent) than respondents who are reviewed only by a single supervisor.”

Peer feedback carries more weight because of employees’ intrinsic need to belong. Teach employees to give one another constructive feedback. If a change needs to be made, peer requests can be the best motivation.

4. Fostering growth through the feedback process.

Employees who provide feedback gain a fuller awareness of the elements of good performance through the very act of assessing and commenting on the productivity of their peers.

This insight correlates with social comparison theory, explained in an article published in Psychology Today as the way people see themselves can be influenced by how they compare themselves with others and whom they choose to compare themselves to.

Give employees an opportunity to provide feedback on team members' work so that they can uncover more about their own work. When employees see what they like about others’ performance, they might take note and incorporate some of those desirable elements in their own repertoire. In the same way, when they see something they don’t like, they might try to ensure they don’t make the same errors.

Related: 6 Alternatives to Micromanaging Employees