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:: A Few Degrees out of 360

Every year (or twice a year) i’m reminded that most of the employee review process was created by folks that are not introverts.

This is highlighted by things like 360 Reviews, where you’re asked to provide feedback on lots of folk, like peers, and managers, and co-workers, and strangers. For introverts, this is kind of the worst case thing they can be asked to do. It’s not only forced social interaction, it’s forced social interaction that will impact your livelihood and whatever tenuous co-working relationships you may have managed to foster. Pile on to that the fact that folks have MASSIVE imposter syndrome and it’s just the worst time.

This is not to say that i don’t understand the value of this process. Managers are busy people who have enough on their plate that they often can’t assess a subordinate’s skills correctly. Likewise, relying on the viewpoint of a single individual means that there can be things missed. Well rounded feedback is invaluable in that it’s the outside perspective that we may be missing. i don’t know when i am screwing up for reals partly because i’m convinced i’m constantly screwing up, so having someone else give good critique about it is, well, critical.

Of course, my paranoid brain also notes that giving negative feedback, particularly around review time, and in a channel that is used by management, means that management has lots of ammo available to shoot down reasons that you might get a raise / promotion / recognition / whatever. “Well, Bob, i see here that you resolved seven critical security issues and single handedly kept this pillar system operational, but Dave thinks you need to write better comments, so here’s a ${CURRENT_BASE_INFLATION_RATE – 1}%1 bump in salary. We’ll see what we can do about that comment issue next quarter, right?”

Added into the fun, folks are often asked to list all the people they worked with over the prior period. For introverts, this is going to be a small number. Maybe three or four if they’re feeling super social one week. It may be the folk that review their code, or folk that they might have talked about a project with, or just folk that they have a reasonable level of trust in. Which the other person may not realize. Thus the whole “from strangers” thing above.

Getting back to the top point, i get the feeling that whoever tends to design these things presumes that everyone has a rich network of connections and believes that all interactions are done in good faith. i understand that it’s impossible to address each and every persons broken psyche, but i do wonder if there might be a better way to approach this for folks that are not, let’s say, outgoing in the workplace.

Maybe ask them to put together a list of the folks they felt were meaningful (either good or bad) to them over the past few months. Maybe get in an introvert whisperer who will chat with folks to ask what about that person was meaningful and help craft a statement that the introvert can agree with. Point out that there might be things that the other person could do differently that might make working with them easier or things they do now that shouldn’t change.

People often say that introverts are socially awkward, but i’d argue that it’s because they’re hyper aware of social interaction. They are well, well aware of the weight that actions can take and they don’t want to cause undo damage. These sorts of requests are difficult to deal with because introverts are keenly aware of the sorts of outcomes they carry. For them, there’s no way to do this in a “light, casual” manner. They’re dealing with someone’s life and don’t want their misjudgement to be what ruins it.

Of course, i’m not a behavioral scientist, psychologist, or extrovert (regardless of how i may act), so Far Smarter People than i should probably work on this. i also wonder if it might be good if companies at least recognize this as a source of potential stress and at least give employees ways to either address, or help address it in their own ranks.

If not, folks are welcome to join me twice a year as i stare out into the endless sea surrounded by a dark cloud of anxiety and dread.

1 This is a pay cut.

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