Have you ever thought you were performing your role well and even received good feedback from your boss in your performance review, only to receive a “below average” on the formal paperwork? It can be confusing and extremely hard to take. So how can you tackle this?
Before you go storming into your boss’ office demanding answers, here’s what you can do.
FOCUS ON YOURSELF FIRST
In crucial moments like this, we often believe that others are the cause of all that ails us, but it’s this belief that prevents us from communicating in a way that could lead to progress.
So, recognise that as much as you may want your boss to change your review or confess they handled it poorly, the only person you can change is yourself.
GET CLEAR ON WHAT YOU WANT LONG TERM
When conversations turn crucial, we tend to get carried away with trying to win, protect our beliefs, punish others, and so on.
Such tactics are concerned with short-term outcomes, and achieving them usually comes at the expense of long-term outcomes that have much greater value. I suspect, for example, you don’t go to work every day in order to get a good performance review or that what you really want is for your boss to “eat humble pie”.
So, step back and try to identify any short-term desires you may have, then replace them with a long-term, healthy perspective.
Reflecting on the following questions can help:
- What do you ultimately want?
- What do you care about—in the long-term?
- What’s worth caring about—in the long-term?
- What do you want for your boss—in the long-term?
- What do you want for the relationship with your boss—in the long-term?
CONSIDER YOUR OWN CONTRIBUTION
Something else to consider is whether you are overlooking any ways in which you might’ve contributed to your situation? Have you done anything that would give your boss reason to do what they did, regardless of whether you find their reasons excusable?
INTERLUDE: INTERNAL VS EXTERNAL WORK
So far, we’ve identified the internal work that should be done before raising our concerns. This enables us to reframe our perspective and get control of our emotions. When this is done effectively—whether it takes seconds, minutes or days—it feels like letting go.
Why? Because we will have let go—of any story that suggests “they are wrong and I’m right”. And when we let go, we feel malice dissolve and frustration dissipate. That’s when we know we’re ready to talk.
We may also feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is a good sign. It means we’re about to display courage, not revenge or some other spiteful action.
Now, on to the external work.
SHARE YOUR GOOD INTENT
“I really want to do a good job here, and I want your honest feedback. I also want you to feel like you can give me honest feedback any time. And I want to improve how we talk about this stuff.”
SEEK MUTUAL PURPOSE
Make it your primary goal to uncover some common ground. What do you both care about? It’s fair to assume our boss wants us to do good work and that we want to do good work. Now it’s about finding common ground with regard to the performance review?
“I’d like to know where you’re coming from. It would help me if we can get on the same page, so I want to know how you see performance reviews. What’s their purpose in your view, and what do you hope to achieve with them?”
SEEK SOME GROUND RULES
After you’ve identified a shared goal, propose some ground rules to reduce the chance of miscommunication. Even if your boss is following a formal procedure, it should allow for some communication guidelines.
Here are three suggestions.
- Focus on the facts: Ask your boss to share concrete examples and facts surrounding your performance. And commit to using facts yourself. If your boss shares feedback you want to challenge, do so with data, rather than opinions.
- Describe gaps: Ask your boss to connect the dots from your behaviour to clear standards or expectations. “I think I can make better progress if you could take a little extra time to explain why my performance is considered below average and describe what average or good performance looks like. Can we do that?”
- Request Transparency and Time: Finally, going forward, ask for direct feedback on your first meeting and see if your boss will agree to a second meeting to review things before paperwork is filed. Explain that you would like a couple days to process the feedback before embracing it.
YOU CAN DO IT
All of these suggestions put the onus on us. Nothing will empower you to change your boss’s behavior or mind. But when we show up differently, others respond differently.
The skills of Crucial Conversations, when demonstrated, look like taking the high ground. And while taking the high ground can sometimes be difficult, it will lead you higher.