Ace Your Performance Review

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Tim Baker, PhD

Yes, it’s that time of year again—when the groans of managers can be heard over the mere mention of the words, annual performance reviews. Many managers see performance appraisals as nothing more than an empty, bureaucratic exercise forced on them by the Human Resources department.

What about employees? They dread them too!

With that in mind, here are seven tips to help you survive the dreaded event—and even please your boss.

1. Be prepared. Be punctual and prepared. Ask others for feedback before the meeting. Answer all the questions on the form 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 at the amount of preparation involved. An indifferent attitude will not help you.

2. 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. But if you disagree, do so assertively, but respectfully. Ask your manager to elaborate on his or her feedback. This gives you breathing space to consider his or her comment without coming across as self-protective.

3. 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 say, “That's wrong.” Say, “I have a different opinion on that matter.” Then give an example if possible to back up your perspective.

4. Use examples. The best way to illustrate your point is to identify a critical incident or event that occurred in the workplace. For example, if you disagree with your boss's assertion that, “you are always negative in meetings,” cite an example when you were constructive and positive. This means you need to anticipate some of the fixed opinions your manager has of you. The truth is: Words like, “always” and “never” are often exaggerations. They are labels. It is up to you to cite an example when that tag was simply not true.

5. Ask for clarification. When your manager makes a sweeping statement, ask him or her to elaborate. For example, if he or she says something like, “I am not happy with your report writing,” 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 or she is right.

6. Don't make excuses. If your boss makes a valid point about some opportunities for growth, accept this, if you agree. 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.”

7. Reflect. After the meeting, try to consider any criticism carefully. Don't dismiss it. Ask yourself: “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 their honest opinion. Say something like, “Be honest with me. Do you think I sometimes ...?” Your boss's perception is reality in his or her eyes; that doesn’t mean they are right, but they probably think they are right.

Challenge yourself to perform well in the performance review and the whole process will be a more pleasant experience.
These AMA seminars will help you communicate more effectively with your boss: 
Assertiveness Training 
Partnering with Your Boss: Strategic Skills for Administrative Professionals 

Communicating Up, Down and Across the Organization

About the Author(s)

Tim Baker, PhD is managing director of Winners at Work Pty Ltd. He is an international consultant, best-selling author, and was voted one of the 50 Most Talented Global Training & Development Leaders by the World HRD Congress. His latest book is The End of the Performance Review: A New Approach to Appraising Employee Performance, from which this article was excerpted. For more information, visit: