Freedom from the Feedback Frenzy

For many employees, The Annual Review is quickly approaching. Don’t dread it. Instead, prepare for it. You can only control your side on the receiving end, so get ready to make the most of it.

To prepare for constructive criticism, we can learn from Sheila Heen. She’s a lecturer at Harvard Law School, a partner at Triad Consulting Group and the co-author of two books, Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback.

According to Heen, we can think about feedback as comprised of three key elements: baseline, swing and time back to baseline. Keep reading to learn more about what these strange terms have to do with your performance review.


Baseline refers to how happy or unhappy you are in general. Researchers found that people typically stay true to their baseline—even after a major event, such as winning the lottery or going to jail. After the initial reaction period, we return to our baseline. The same goes for getting that big promotion, losing your job or moving to an exciting new location.

If you tend to be more on the cheerful, positive side, you have a high baseline. Feedback may not particularly bother you, which can be a great mindset for receiving constructive criticism. However, if you don’t take it seriously enough, you may not feel compelled to follow up those opportunities for improvement.

If you have a low baseline, you probably don’t get excited about constructive criticism. You may also have difficulty processing positive feedback or accepting compliments. Don’t let those words of praise fall on deaf ears. Pay special attention to the things your boss appreciates and respects about you, and write them down. When you’re feeling low, look back at the positive feedback—and let it keep sinking in.


No, this has nothing to do with your golf game. Swing refers to how far you shift from your baseline when you receive feedback. An easier way to think about this is to what degree you overreact or don’t react much at all. We’ve seen how the same criticism can be interpreted wildly differently by different people. The varying degrees of reaction boil down to an individual’s level of swing.

Knowing your level of swing can be really helpful. You can approach the situation with purpose—don’t overreact, for example. Sometimes feedback is about something you did once or just a handful of times—not something you always do. On the other hand, rather than not caring, take time to consider how the feedback could help you.

Time Back to Baseline

After you receive feedback, how long does it take before you bounce back to your baseline? If you have high swing, constructive criticism can really throw you off course. Your recovery process may not be so quick.

So, how can you use this info? How can you transform your performance review from a feedback frenzy into a positive experience?

Be introspective about the three elements of feedback. You can also ask one or two of your coworkers. Self-awareness helps you be purposeful and more neutral about being evaluated. If you’re more on the sensitive side, self-awareness can be like putting on a coat of armor. It shields you from the blunt force of feedback so that you can use the information appropriately—that is, to grow in your professional capabilities and advance your career.

You can also use these elements if you’re on the giving side of the conversation. Most people tend to deliver feedback based on how they receive it. If you’re more sensitive, you may unnecessarily sugarcoat criticisms. Or, you could come across as harsh and uncaring.

Understanding the differences between you and your employees through the three elements of feedback usually leads to better outcomes. How might you need to adjust your delivery so that your team can interpret the conversation in an optimal way?

Prime performance evaluation season is just around the corner. Begin your preparations now. Start working to understand the elements of feedback. The self-awareness will help make the experience less stressful and more valuable. When you’re able to process and use feedback appropriately, you can convert that information into action. The effort alone will stand out, and your improvements will work magic for your career.


Learn more from Sheila Heen in this video: