As a professional People Person, I regularly talk with team members who have had a challenging conversation with their boss and feel angry, frustrated, deflated, sad, unfairly treated and everything else in between.
Often the tough conversation was their performance review; other times an innocuous meeting turns into an unexpected developmental feedback session.
However, based on my experience of counselling and coaching dozens of people through these, it's time we re-think these 'bad' experiences and learn to not only survive, but instead turn them into learning experiences.
Most people want to be good at their job. In fact, I've probably only met a handful of people throughout my career who simply didn't care (surprisingly, we don't work together anymore).
Most of us want to be successful, happy, engaged, respected and ultimately the best version of ourselves.
So, what happens between this genuine aspiration to greatness and the negative reaction we get when being told what we're not good at?
The answer I think is simple: plain old self-preservation. We've evolved as a species to survive and this, in a work setting, means protecting our perception of ourselves as good/adequate/right.
However, to truly meet our potential we need to find a way beyond this barrier into the land of self-development, where we honestly look at our strengths and areas of development with even attention.
I recently wrote an article on the art of receiving feedback, however the experience of going through a ‘bad’ review seems to be so traumatic for people that I thought it deserved its own piece…
So here it is: you have your review meeting with your manager today at 2pm. It's 1:30 and they've just sent you your review form (that's not good enough, I agree with you) so you rush to read it, minimising the window every time someone walks past your screen.
Although there's a couple (expected) positive comments about your performance in the past 6 months, most of the review focuses on what you're not doing and how you need to change. None of this seems constructive and depending on the type of person you are, you're feeling angry and ready to fight back or perhaps upset and about to cry.
However, this very moment is in fact, the moment you have been waiting for! This is the time the proverbial rubber of self-development hits the road.
Believe me, you won't have a better opportunity than this to flex your growth mindset and here are four steps that may help you make it out not just alive, but actually motivated:
1. Decide the attitude you want to bring to this situation
This is incredibly important as the mindset you decide to adopt, the attitude you bring to a challenging situation such as this one, will make all the difference. Broadly speaking, there are 2 ways this can go, you can either be a VERB* or SOAR*.
People with a VERB attitude are:
• Rescued (want to be)
• Blaming others
On the contrary, people with a SOAR attitude are:
• Ownership (taking)
The key here is that the attitude you decide to adopt is 110% up to you, and that you’ll need to make your decision very quickly as it will determine the outcome of the conversation.
Remember that it is possible to SOAR in any situation - but it does require that you take ownership of your part of the responsibility before trying to address any faults of the other party.
If you choose to be a VERB, I'm afraid the rest of this article won't be of much use… It won’t be a good conversation, you’ll feel hard-done by, become resentful and eventually change job only to find yourself in a similar situation elsewhere sooner or later.
Want to board the SOAR boat? Great, come along!
2. Explore the feedback
This is hard to do but once you step into the meeting, try to explore the negative feedback instead of letting your emotions take over.
The best way to do this is to ask questions and get some specifics on where the person thinks you are falling short - this includes probing for examples and asking about the impact on the business, other people and your own development or potential.
After all, the only way to know if you want to act on it, is to spend some time understanding the feedback.
3. Carve out some time for self-reflection
After a tough review, it’s normal to need some time to regroup. If the conversation has taken you by surprise, ask for some time to think before reconvening.
It's perfectly fine to say you need to digest the feedback - this is especially true if the conversation has sprung out of nowhere or you've only had 30 minutes to read your manager's feedback.
Review the information you have collected and consider what may be right about what you've been told instead of focusing on what’s wrong about it.
Truth is, feedback is rarely delivered in a timely, professional, constructive or confidential manner. There is always going to be something wrong with the feedback you're given or the situation it's delivered in, but that's not a reason to become a VERB!
Remember that behind every piece of terribly delivered feedback or botched meeting, there is something for you to take away and use positively, you may just need a bit of time to mine what that is…
4. Close the loop
If your review meeting went badly, I'd really recommend that you ask for a follow up quickly - a weekend is always good for self-reflection but don’t let it go on for weeks.
In the follow up, talk through what you heard and took away from the conversation. Funnily enough, this is often different to what the person intended to communicate so it's a worthwhile exercise.
Share what you've decided to take on board, what you’ll implement moving forward and ask for your manager to help you stay on track. The very best way to tackle areas of growth is with your manager on your right side, so use this as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
Lastly, you can (tactfully!) communicate to your manager what was not ideal in the way they handled the situation. After all, we can all improve…
Ultimately, a bad review meeting isn’t the end of the world, it’s how you handle it that is most important.
Remember that those who’ve never had a tough review probably have never been pushed out of their comfort zone. So, if anything, this is a really good (if unexpected) opportunity to put your growth mindset to the test.