How I Learnt To Take Performance Reviews In Stride

As a young professional, the very thought of going for a performance review still makes me a tad nervous – not as bad as the first few sessions early in my career life but that fleeting moments of nervousness is still there.

Our Asian culture which dictates that we must always respect our elders, seniors, or bosses, and to humbly accept their feedback and criticism for they are wiser, rich in experience, and always right; I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of doom even before I step into the meeting.

Over the years and having gone through a number of performance reviews, I realised that I do look forward to these sessions because at the end of it all, I have walked away with insightful gems.

Sheila Heen rightly said in her book Thanks for the Feedback, “It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it, and whether and how they choose to change.”

However, it is not always straight-forward process because there are times when receiving and responding to feedback, my emotions have gotten in the way – clouding my rationale and ability to distil constructive feedback and actionable insights, reducing me to tears, or becoming snappish towards my superior.

Fortunately, life is a learning processes filled with kind and patient seniors and bosses who were generous enough to share their experience with me on how to make the process a positive one where everyone wins.

So here is my two cents worth on how you can manage your own performance review better:

Think Positive

Try be positive and pro-active. Instead of dreading your review, kick-start the meeting on a good note by letting you managers know that you interested to know how you performed and would like to understand what are the areas that you can improve on.

And just in case, also them know that you may need time to think about their feedback and comments as you may have more questions and thoughts. In-directly, giving them heads up that you may request for a follow-up session.

This works for me as it allows me to focus on what is being said rather than what I feel because of what is being said.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a time-out if you need it

If somewhere in the middle of your review your boss says something that you think it’s wrong or unfair and it gets you worked up you may want to request a break to “cool off” before you say or do something that may damage the relationship or your reputation. You may be a bit apprehensive to ask for a break, but trust me both parties would appreciate it.

It might also give you a few minutes to calm down, think about what triggered you, and when you return to the conversation, you’re more ready to ask specific questions.

Concentrate on clarity

It’s pretty normal impulse when someone tells you how you can improve, your first response may be to think about all the reasons why they’re wrong. However, it can be quite harmful if you cling to it and dismiss everything your boss says. Try let go of your defensiveness and focus on getting clarity from what’s being said. Understand what your boss is saying as clearly and specifically as possible and to ask a ton of questions.

If your boss tend to be vague with his statements like “We want to see more leadership from you” or “I’d love to see you get more proactive.” It’s up to you to find out what they mean.

On the other hand, if you work for an organisation or bosses that is very generous with their praise and would avoid any hint of negativity, you may want to take a different approach.

Asking your boss “Do you have any feedback for me?” is good because there’s always room for growth but it may come across unclear as to what sort of feedback you would like. Ask instead for one or two things that you can do to improve.

Take notes and ask friends to evaluate any criticism

One thing that I find which helps me maintain keep an open mind and keep my emotions in check during performance review is taking notes – not mental ones but actually writing down the feedback you’re receiving.

Not only does it helps you focus on something else other than your own feelings or the voice in your head, it acts as a reference point for further questions and clarify.

Additionally, if it still troubles you, these notes allows you to go to a trusted buddy to ask for help to sort through it. They can give you a candid feedback that you may not have been able to see yourself.

Let it go!

Some of us are harder on ourselves, so there will be times when we would take a feedback and criticism more personally. It’ll eat us up on the inside and it takes up a lot of mental space. If that sounds like you, I do suggest putting things into perspective on paper – journaling it down or drawing a chart with columns to make sense on what the feedback is about and what it is not will enable you to have a more balanced point of view.

It helps to remember that a performance review is designed to help you grow as an individual and team player in an organisation rather than merely criticism. Along with these little tips, I hope you can view your performance review in a different light and gain some insights that will help you with your career and personal growth.

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