Breathe. You Can Get Through Your Performance Review

The annual performance review cycle might as well be heralded by a chorus of groans—it’s a chore many managers and employees see as nothing more than an empty bureaucratic exercise forced on them by the helpful folks in the human resources department.

Alas, performance reviews aren’t going anywhere. To help you survive yours (and maybe even please your boss), here are seven tips.

Be prepared
It’s obvious but worth noting: Be punctual and prepared. Ask others for feedback before the meeting. If you’re asked to fill out a form, answer all questions fully. Nothing will annoy your manager more than taking a half-hearted approach to this meeting. Remember, he or she probably has several of these to do, and is probably annoyed about all of the prep, too. An indifferent attitude will not help you.

Don’t be defensive
Take a deep breath. Sit back, and don’t under any circumstances be confrontational. That doesn’t mean you have to accept everything your manager has to say. If you disagree, do so assertively, but respectfully. Ask your manager to elaborate on her feedback. This gives you breathing space to consider a comment without coming across as self-protective or inflexible.

Be assertive
Assertive doesn’t mean aggressive or argumentative. It means calmly and clearly stating your case. Sometimes this is easier said than done. For example, don’t blurt out, “That’s wrong.” Instead, say, “I have a different opinion on that.” Then give an example, if possible, to back up your perspective. Which leads to …

Use examples
The best way to illustrate your point is to identify a critical incident or event that occurred in the workplace. If you disagree with your boss when she says, “you’re always negative in meetings,” cite an example when you were constructive and positive. This means you need to anticipate some of the opinions your manager has of you. The truth is, words such as “always” and “never” are often exaggerations. They are labels. It’s up to you to cite an example when that tag is simply not true.

Ask for clarification
When your manager makes a sweeping statement, ask him to elaborate. If he says something like, “I am not happy with how you write reports,” say something like, “May I ask what it is in particular you don’t like about my report writing?” If you don’t take these opportunities, your manager will simply move on to the next question and be convinced that he is right.

Don’t make excuses
If your boss makes a valid point about some opportunities for growth, accept it. Don’t respond with weak excuses such as “The reason I lose my temper is that people make me angry.” Take responsibility. Your boss will appreciate that. For instance, say, “I think you are right, I do lose my temper from time to time. I acknowledge that and I am trying very hard to overcome this.”

Try to consider any criticism carefully after the meeting. Don’t dismiss it. “Is he right?” “Does she have a point?” “Have I heard this criticism from others?” Again, I know this is hard, particularly if your relationship with your manager is strained. Ask a friend for his or her honest opinion. Say something like, “Be honest with me, do you think I sometimes …” Your boss’s perception is reality in his eyes; that doesn’t mean he’s right, but he probably thinks he is.

You just might find that following these tips can make the performance review experience more useful—and possibly even pleasant.

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