The first round of peer evaluations are in. Eleven undergraduate students and one graduate student have provided quantitative and qualitative feedback to classmates who are partners in maintaining (and, ideally, improving) a retail business for class credit. The challenges? Giving useful feedback, learning to receive feedback, and preparing for the day when both giving and receiving feedback will affect raises, bonuses, promotions, and corporate survival.
The students have the same challenges as the upper-level managers with whom I've worked: Who said that about me? That's just wrong; I'm not that way at all. Why would someone say that? How can I respond to feedback that is inconsistent with other feedback? Do I try to change my behavior? If so, how much do I change and which feedback do I use? How do I rationalize quantitative feedback that says I'm a superstar with qualitative comments that tell me I have lots of room for improvement?
My goal is to help them understand that feedback is (trite though it sounds) a gift. It's an indication of how others view your actions, though it's far from being an unbiased statement of fact. It's an awareness that not everyone loves you, likes you, approves of you, or even has a clue about you.
More than anything else, feedback from peers is a call for rigorous self-assessment. It is the opportunity to determine whether and what you will change...or not change. It is the sometimes painful realization that motivation can be both misunderstood and harshly judged. As with the ubiquitious holiday fruitcake, few people really enjoy feedback, despite the tradition of giving and receiving.