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5 ways to respond when your performance review makes no sense

With year-end reviews underway, here’s what to do—and what not to do—if you think your boss is wrong.

5 ways to respond when your performance review makes no sense
Source photo: Credit: designer491/Getty Images]

I am totally down with disagreement. I don’t like Haterade, but disagreement is wonderful. When someone disagrees, we try to reach common ground. —Roxane Gay

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When it comes to asking for and receiving feedback, it can help to expect there to be some disagreement–and be “down” with it. (In other words—know how to deal with it constructively).

After all, you and the person giving you the feedback are different people, with different perspectives, different backgrounds, and even work from different vantage points in the organization. You can’t possibly see everything the same way.

So, what do you do if you get some feedback from your manager that you disagree with?

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Let’s start with what NOT to do.

First, don’t completely dismiss or discount the feedback, saying something like, “that’s just wrong” or “absolutely not.”

Second, don’t become combative, saying something like, “Where did you come up with that?” or “are you kidding me?”

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Third, don’t just give in or give up, saying something like, “fine, whatever, you’re right” or “why should I even bother to make my case?”

Now, let’s talk about five helpful strategies of what you can do if you disagree with the feedback:

Ask for specific examples and clarifications

Hopefully, your boss or colleague has already provided you with these. But if not—if you get nonspecific, not clear feedback like, “you’re not being proactive enough” you’re going to need to dig a bit. Make a request such as, “can you share with me a specific example of when you think I could have been more proactive?” Or you can even say, “I want to make sure we’re using the same language. What behaviors do you associate with being proactive?” And remember – tone matters a lot. Speak calmly, carefully, and with curiosity.

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Take your time—and ask for a timeout if needed

If you’re finding yourself experiencing some challenging emotions that feel hard to manage, or if you notice that you’re having a tough time processing and responding, slow the process down. One way to do that is by looping—repeating back what you hear the other person say. It also serves to help the other person feel like you understand them. Another way to do that is to write things down, which (especially if you do it by hand) will give you time to reflect on the conversation as you slow it down to take notes. And still another way is to ask for a timeout for you to think about what’s being said—and come back later or tomorrow to continue or finish the conversation.

Find common ground

As much as you may find little merit in your manager’s feedback, look for any areas of agreement—no matter how small. For example, if your boss gives you the feedback that you’re not following up with prospects quickly enough, and you think you’re doing it as fast as you possibly can, you can still agree that both of you want to convert prospects into paying clients. See if you can agree on the what and why, even if you see the “how” differently.

Apply a “2% true” mindset

Ask yourself this: “If I had to admit that 2% of the feedback were true, what 2% would it be?”. This gives you the opportunity to reflect on the overall feedback, and look for parts of it where maybe (just maybe) you can see yourself in there. Let’s say your boss says, “You rushed through the client pitch” and you think you spoke at a reasonable pace. But perhaps you could admit that you were a little nervous. Once you do that, be willing to share that with your boss and start from there.

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Commit to a course of action and plan to revisit sooner rather than later

 If, after your conversation, your manager backs down because you helped them see it your way, congratulations. And, in the likely event that this doesn’t happen, make a plan with your manager for you to try the new or different approach—but to check back in soon about how it’s going. That way, you won’t spend months engaged in a new way of working without knowing whether or not it’s making a positive difference. 

Hopefully, you get more feedback that you agree with than you don’t.  But when the time comes that the feedback makes you say, “huh?” you now have some strategies to tackle that conversation.

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