Transforming Talk at Work | December 2014


Dear reader,

It’s December, and for many that means performance evaluations are just around the corner. December is also a busy time at Working Conversations, as I train and coach managers to more effectively share feedback with their employees. Each organization faces different challenges, but I have found that one key element more than doubles the overall benefits of the performance evaluation process. It’s a simple secret: the most thoughtful evaluation often falls on deaf ears if the employees have not been trained to actually receive the feedback.

A helpful illustration of this point comes from a client of mine, who I will call Carol. Her boss was new to the company. Some of his feedback was quite critical, and Carol did not feel she was being evaluated fairly. She recalled, “I couldn’t listen anymore, it was just too difficult. I knew I wasn’t hearing what he was saying. I totally checked out of the conversation.” As we explored the situation further, it became clear that some comments Carol received were indeed inaccurate. But, many of her boss’ observations were actually constructive, and Carol had missed them because she had slipped into defense-mode.

Whether working with managers or individual contributors, I always remind clients to keep an eye out for their own defensiveness. When you get defensive, the pre-frontal cortex (part of the brain that is responsible for critical thinking and listening) shuts down. In this state, it is literally impossible to reason or absorb information accurately. Luckily, a little awareness and some fast-acting tools are all that’s needed to get your brain back online to focus on the valuable content being shared.

The next time you find yourself on the receiving end of a performance evaluation, use the following steps to reverse engineer the best and most constructive outcomes.


Reverse Engineer: Effective Participation in Your Own Performance Evaluation

1. Be prepared. Do your best to arrive feeling calm, open and not rushed. Review any relevant materials (your goals, self-assessment, etc.) before the meeting.
2. Listen intently, even to the tough stuff.
3. Ask questions when you don’t understand something or when you need a moment to pause. Reframing, gaining added context and taking a moment to breathe are all ways to keep (or restore) the connection to your pre-frontal cortex.
4. Remember that the discussion is about your work performance, not your value as a human being. The two are not the same thing.
5. In areas where you may have fallen short, ask specifically what success looks like. This is especially helpful when you don’t fully agree with the assessment.
6. Make a plan to check on your progress in the near term (six weeks is a good time frame) in any areas you commit to improving.


Digest This: Better Performance Evaluations

Find the Coaching in Criticism (Harvard Business Review)
According to the latest research, one in four professionals dread performance evaluations more than anything else in their working lives. Yikes! Take dread out of the equation by following the six “distinct and learnable” steps outlined in this article. I especially liked the simple breakdown of emotional triggers (truth, relationship, and identity) and the opportunity to practice sorting and filtering feedback that may not always be perfectly delivered.

5 Steps to Better Performance Reviews (Entrepreneur)
The article is short and sweet, and provides a timely reminder of what it takes to stay current, clear and fair when it comes to measuring performance in the workplace. A great read for managers and employees alike.

How to Write the Dreaded Self-Appraisal (Harvard Business Review)
Have you ever felt like you’re entering a minefield when the boss asks you to complete a self-evaluation? Use the sound advice, honest perspective and real-world examples in this article to gain more confidence and clearer direction for the next time around.


My Treat:

A Gift Just for You

Performance evaluations are a way of measuring progress at work, but a snapshot of your life as a whole is just as important! Carve out a little time and follow my 3-step process to chart what you’ve accomplished this year, where you are this minute, and what you wish for 2015. You won’t regret it!

Send me an email and I will reply with the instructions on how to conduct your annual life inventory.



Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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