It was so uncomfortable. I was sitting in the room while a client I had recently met laid into one of his direct reports during a performance review, and it was painful. I could tell that both the boss and his direct report were nervous. The boss revealed his nervousness through anger and an attempt to wield power. The direct report was just nervous. A couple of times his hands shook. He did not say much, but that only seemed to anger the boss more. It was horrible to watch.
A few years later, I was asked to sit in on a performance review between another boss (once again my client) and a direct report with whom he wanted me to work. As in the first case, it was not a good review, but this direct report used an entirely different approach as she responded.
Here are 6 things she did really well:
1. Lowered her defenses. She viewed the review as the start of her comeback story.
When the boss came in with lower scores than she expected, she openly said something to the effect of, “These scores (performance review scores) are lower than what I thought.” Then she leaned in, smiled slightly, and continued. “I will listen to you so that I can make any and all changes to ensure that the next review is a big step up from here.”
Her boss smiled and said something to the effect of, “I am going to help you get there.”
It was obvious that she did not let the poor review go to her core. In that is a huge lesson for us. The truest you is not your performance. If you can separate yourself from your performance, you can gain a lot of insights that will be effective in raising you to the next level.
When receiving negative feedback, it is easy to get defensive. We can be so afraid of how an authority figure is perceiving us that we want to make excuses, or deflect the criticisms, in hopes of convincing the person that the perception we fear they have of us is not true. But defensiveness usually makes things worse.
Instead, view a negative review as the start to your comeback story. (Everyone loves a comeback story.) If you can see it as the start of your comeback story, then you will probably regulate your emotions well enough that you can gain clarity on what and how to improve.
2. Listened carefully to the feedback and repeated back/paraphrased what she was hearing.
She continued to lean forward slightly as she took notes on what her boss was saying. She used positive body language (i.e. nodding her head up and down) to connote that she wanted to receive the feedback and was taking it in.
She repeated back or paraphrased at times, which had the effect of engaging her boss so that they were aligned together against the problem, instead of her feeling like he was against her.
Anytime she was unclear about something her boss said, she would ask for clarity.
3. Searched for what is true.
It is easy during a bad performance review to pick apart what isn’t true. However, if you do, you will miss a huge learning opportunity, which will, in turn, hinder you from being the person you were meant to be.
Focus on what parts are true. Repeat back or paraphrase those parts.
If some aspects are not true, and these are important, ask how you could address these without sounding defensive. For example, “XYZ is true. I will work on that. There are a couple of aspects of what you said that seem to be important, and I want to address those in a way that doesn’t lead you to believe that I am defensive. Should we set up a time to talk about those?”
4. Developed a plan and asked for a plan feedback time.
When the review ends, don’t forget to thank your boss. As you probably know from personal experience, giving a negative review is tricky.
Let your boss know that you are going to develop a plan around the areas of concerns. Inform your boss that you are open to hearing what, if anything, was not included that might be helpful for you to implement in order to grow in the areas you need to grow in.
Also be sure to ask your boss if you could gain feedback on the plan. This will further align the two of you towards the common goal of helping you reach your potential.
When making the plan, be sure to create small tangible steps that will encourage you and empower you to continue to make the journey towards transformation.
5. Included mentors and coaches in the plan.
Be sure to ask, if you don’t know, who the people are who are excellent in your areas of weakness. Contact them and see if they are willing to mentor you. Hiring a coach could also be effective in helping you continue in your turnaround story.
6. Made sure that the feedback time was clear.
When you have the feedback time with your boss, make sure you are completely clear on any points they are making.
Be sure to mention that you are grateful for the opportunity to grow and that you are committed to making the changes.
A poor review doesn’t mean that you are bad. It can actually be the start of something fantastic. Having watched a few people get promoted within a year of a poor review has more than convinced me that the sooner we let go of our egos and embrace a humble posture, the faster we can continue the climb.
Chew On This:
- What will help you to believe at a core level that you are not your performance?
Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.
*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients. No one single client is being singled out.