How to excel in receiving feedback and reducing performance review anxiety
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” — Mark Twain
What if I told you that, a) you’ll have a great conversation once or twice a year, with someone who has observed your growth and performance; b) they’ll be happy to share with you the aspects of your job where you did great, aspects that you need to develop further, and where you stand today; c) they will base their judgements on the expectations of the role and present a balanced evaluation of your outputs compared against a fair peer group.
Well, that would be fantastic! Sadly, this conversation is far from anything that invokes such excitement, and for good reasons. There are far too many variables, most of which are not in your control, like how good your manager is at giving feedback, how fair the feedback itself is, the nuances that are lost in the feedback, etc. The good news is, you are not alone! This level of uncertainty and ambiguity is always going to exist for everyone in the world. There is, however, another side to this equation. Yes, that’s you! This one is completely in your control. You get to decide how you listen, react and feel. You get to decide what small improvements you’re going to make. You get to decide if you’re going to make those improvements from a place of fear or from a place of calm.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”– Mahatma Gandhi
Here are some tips to help you be less anxious and, hopefully, have you look forward to performance reviews in future. These are drawn from my own experiences over 10+ years in corporate America, which equate to 30+ performance reviews (yes, that’s more than normal, but I’ve spent a majority of those years in management consulting, where review cycles are more frequent), and additional reading /listening I’ve done over the years on articles on feedback from Harvard Business Review and podcasts (like WorkLife, by Adam Grant).
- Listen without interruption.
- When it’s your turn to speak, thank the person giving you the feedback. It is incredibly hard for most people to take the time necessary to provide feedback, even when that’s their job. Thanking them also shows that you are not being defensive and are open to listening, which are extremely critical traits you want to display early and often in this conversation.
- Having listened intently, formulate meaningful, actionable follow-up questions, where applicable. Questions should not focus on challenging the feedback, but help you understand the context better, where needed, or help you get more clarity on what you could have done better.
- Talk about how you intend to improve the process, so that you don’t make the same errors you made in the past. Get detailed on this. If you need more time to digest and react, say so.
- For the things identified as strengths, make sure you also dive deeper to understand how you can turn these into a competitive advantage for yourself. (You obviously don’t need to use that term if it sounds too much like a business jargon, but you get the point!) Don’t ignore your strengths, you need to double-down on them to be successful and to stand out.
- Don’t let anything affect you deeply. The goal of this is to continue to shine in areas of strengths and to come back strong in areas of development. It is neither helpful nor healthy to let this pull your spirits down. If the feedback has really hurt you, it’s a good sign. It means you care deeply. However, the only way to snap out of this is to take action. Take small steps to improve and take them immediately! You all know the power of compound interest. This applies to habits too. (Read this fantastic book on habits, if you haven’t, Atomic Habits by James Clear.)
- Draw trends on what typically comes across as strengths and areas of development. Catalog them and think about them deeply. Are your strengths aligned with what you want to be known for? Think about how you can connect what you hear in feedback sessions with your own goals and build out areas to work on accordingly.
- Breathe, relax, enjoy the conversation. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. Most of us end up working for 30 years, give or take, with at least two such conversations each year. So, your next performance review is just 1 of 60; you need to make it count, but it’s far from the do-or-die situation we often make it out to be in our heads. Stay in high spirits and make meaningful, constructive, and sustainable improvements in your approach.
“The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.” – Brian Herbert
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin