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Surviving your Annual Performance Appraisal

OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic but the invitation to my annual performance appraisal is usually right up there with the post card I get from my dentist every 6 months asking me to make an appointment to find out if I need another root canal. Why do annual performance appraisals inspire such angst and even fear? Well, it doesn’t help that your compensation hangs in the balance but I think it has more to do with feeling at the mercy of someone else’s opinion. Let’s see what we can do about that.

Surprise! You Suck

The reason so many performance discussions go down the tubes is because the appraisee is unpleasantly surprised by the feedback they receive. Don’t think I haven’t been there – my first instinct was to rip the leg off of the chair next to me, use it like a samurai sword and, eh hem, it was a long time ago and I’ve grown since then. Bottom line: it’s hard not to be surprised by negative feedback in such a formal setting, particularly when it’s written down! It’s relatively easy though, to make sure this doesn’t happen. Great managers provide feedback regularly and great employees ask for it. Don’t get all defensive on me now! Providing and receiving feedback is hard – if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. If you don’t have a super star boss who’s telling you regularly what you’re doing well and where you could improve, don’t assume that everything’s peachy. It may be tough but you’re better off hearing about your areas of development earlier in the year while you still have time to makes changes than waiting to be sand bagged at the end of the year when you have no recourse.

How much do you care?

The reason you should ask yourself this question is that it can help you gain perspective and allow you to frame the performance conversation appropriately. The answer is probably influenced by a couple of factors: your desire to stay with this job/company and whether or not you trust your boss. If both of these factors are favorable, you most likely, really do care about your appraisal and want to grow and develop in your position. If one or both of these factors in unfavorable, you need to be a little more attentive to how you take in the information you hear so you don’t send yourself into a frenzy by either beating yourself up or fantasizing about torturing your boss with post-it note paper cuts. Depending on how bad things are, you might take the feedback you receive with a grain of salt. The point is, make sure you’re walking into your performance discussion with the right mind-set knowing what you want to get out of it.


Even if you think your boss is a quack, you may find that there’s at least some truth to their feedback – both positive and constructive. As corny as this sounds: feedback is a gift. It helps us understand ourselves better and how others perceive us. Use this opportunity to listen to what they have to say. And if you have a good relationship with your boss you’ve got an even better reason to take in what they have to say. Of course you may disagree and you should speak up when you do, but take a deep breath and try not to take things personally. This is an opportunity for you and your manager to understand each other better so you might want to try asking questions rather than jumping to your retort. For example, you might ask if they can provide an example or elaborate on their feedback to learn how they arrived at their conclusion before you launch into an objection.

Also, don’t forget to listen to what you did well. It’s natural for us to want to leap to our weaknesses either in defense or with the desire for self-improvement. It’s just as important to reflect on your strengths – these are the things you need to continue to leverage to be successful.

My guess is that anytime you’re thrown into a room and made to listen to feedback about yourself, particularly when a raise is dangling before you – you’re going to be nervous. The good news is that you can control whether or not that feedback is a surprise, how you take this information in and the way you respond to it. That said…best of luck and may all of your performance appraisals be painless.

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