If the mention of “performance review” makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, you’re not alone. Many people get unnecessarily anxious when it comes time for the common annual evaluation.
Personally, I’m not a huge proponent of the performance review as I believe feedback should be ongoing, but I understand why companies rely on them and how they’re used to help employees grow within their roles and department. But rather than approaching this with an overblown sense of dread, I recommend that you view it as an opportunity. Along with receiving feedback on your past year’s performance, you’ll also have a chance to brag about your accomplishments, address shortcomings, ask questions, and get direction for the upcoming year.
If you are prepared to make the most of this sit-down, it’ll be a relatively painless process; in fact, it might even be eye-opening and super insightful.
At a minimum, you should bring a list of accomplishments and a catalog of questions. Think of how you can self-promote, but also be prepared to respond to your boss’s feedback. (Or, fill out a 10-minute worksheet weekly.)
The following phrases can apply to numerous situations and will help you navigate the annual loaded meeting with aplomb.
1. Can You Tell Me More About That?
Maybe your boss throws a surprise your way during the evaluation, or perhaps she vaguely comments on upcoming expectations. Let’s say she says, “I’d like to see you be more assertive.” There is zero context or further explanation, but as this is your evaluation, you have every right to ask for clarification.
You might say, “I’m a little surprised to hear that. As you’ve seen from the accomplishments I shared with you, I had a productive year. Can you tell me more about what you mean?” Ask follow-up questions as necessary. Understanding your supervisor’s feedback and acting accordingly may help you be even more successful in the year ahead.
2. I Want to Be Sure I Understand
Maybe your boss tells you he wants you to take the lead on some market research this year (good news!), but by the time you are wrapping up, he still hasn’t volunteered any specifics. This is your chance to have him elaborate.
Say to him, “I want to be sure I understand your expectation with the market research. I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to start taking the lead on some of this. We have a meeting with a new client later this week, and I think this would be the perfect opportunity for me to step into a lead role. Does this align with your expectations, or did you have something else in mind?”
3. Let Me Provide a Little More Context
You know what you do every day, but your boss can’t possibly know the ins and outs of your work because she’s not in your head and is busy leading a team of people. So, if your supervisor brings up a situation that doesn’t exactly paint you in a good light, you should feel at liberty to speak up. I’m not advocating that you make excuses or avoid ownership.
"But, if there’s something missing in the history of events that your boss is recounting, then it is your right to enlighten her as professionally as you can".
If, for example, you deftly handled an out-of-control client, but your boss is under the impression that you angered a client, setting the record straight helps her understand what really happened. It may positively influence her opinion of you and your abilities, and that’s something you obviously want going forward.
4. What Would it Take to Score Higher?
First, keep in mind that some companies won’t allow supervisors to give perfect scores. So, if you get a couple of “4s” instead of a top-ranking of “5” on every section of your evaluation, it may have more to do with company restrictions than your performance. Nonetheless, you are certainly within your right to ask how you can improve, or what it would look like if you performed at a top level.
Additionally, if you truly believe you deserve a higher score, asking your boss what it would take to reach that score makes him think his way through his expectations. If your performance closely aligns with his answer, you just might earn an upgrade.
5. I Would Like to Discuss My Priorities for This Next Year
Always wrap up an evaluation by ensuring that you know what your boss is looking for over the next year. If your review includes goals for the upcoming year, be sure you have a clear grasp of what they entail. The last thing you want is a miscommunication on what your supervisor is expecting and what you think he is asking of you.
And if your evaluation doesn’t include goal-setting, you’ll want to be sure to address agreed-upon priorities and vision for the new year so you have something to point to in next year’s review.
6. How Will I Know I’m on Track Between This Evaluation and the Next?
Hopefully, you have a boss who communicates with you more than once a year (and if not, you may want to think really hard about your future with your company). However, if you feel there is room for improvement in your communication with each other, don’t be afraid to ask a question like the one above.
As with anything else, your word choice is key. Even a slightly more pointed, “It would really help me to have some more frequent feedback about my performance between evaluations. Can we talk about a way to make that happen this year?” invites conversation about your needs and the way feedback is communicated.
The performance review really doesn’t need to cause you anxiety. Be armed with ways you can learn from the conversation, and don’t forget that for many managers, the yearly evaluation is a chance for them to dish out the praise, and thank you for your hard work.