As job seekers, we have a tendency to focus on the interviews which lead up to the job offer (informational interviews, job interviews), but think little about what comes beyond. One of the themes of this blog is to consider shifting our perspective such that we are putting ourselves into the day-to-day work mindset which enables us to see that landing the job is only the beginning. Once we are in the job, we begin new processes: growing into the job and growing the job. Performance appraisal meetings can be best understood as a key mechanism in both processes. This meeting is a chance to set goals, to get important feedback, and to elicit coaching from your manager. So, just as you would prepare for a job interview, your performance review becomes something that you can prepare for.
Speaking from personal experience, I can confess that this is NOT how I have tended to approach performance reviews. Not at all. Typically, I come into the meeting prepared to only hear positive feedback, and then get defensive and have a hard time hearing criticism, which is of course a complete waste of time on many counts: for one, if I do not use this as an opportunity to learn about areas for growth, how am I supposed to grow? If it truly is the case that I do not see anything that I can learn from my supervisor, then I have a much bigger problem to think about that this particular performance appraisal. Finally, if I do not honestly show up in that moment to really talk about my areas for growth, I miss the opportunity to ask for guidance and support. Of course, some managers are much more gifted than others, and not everyone will be in a position to be able to rise to the challenge (in which case, perhaps this can be an opportunity for them as well), but if your manager is gifted, not taking the opportunity to engage with them on this deeper level is an opportunity lost.
But what from our study of linguistics can help us to understand why it is that these meetings can be so fraught?
As is always the case in social interaction, both participants’ positive and negative faces are activated and vulnerable. The employee wants to be desired and liked and, even though this is a job, wants to be given the freedom from constraint of future action. Both of these positive and negative face wants are true of the boss as well, but the pressure is heightened and the threat of FTAs are upped given the stakes of the encounter.
Additionally, there are inherent conflicts sewn into the fabric of this interaction, owing to the differing goals of each individual. An individual employee necessarily has a different perspective and a different deictic center. That of the manager, will be of the “we” the team, the department, the organization. At moments of disalignment, try to project yourself into the deictic center of your manager
Other strategies for success:
Do role-plays. In the same way that you might practice for a job interview, have a friend or colleague prepare with you, especially if you know there is going to be a difficult conversation.
Proactively seek support and guidance from your manager in articulating and achieving your goals. Check back in with yourself when you were starting the job. Where did you think you were going to be headed? Revisit the goals that you set for yourself the year before, and if you have not done so before, use this meeting as an opportunity to do so.
The conversation will always go better when you are anchoring on behaviors and tasks rather than personality or character traits.
Come to the meeting with questions to ask, and examples to discuss, just as you would do for a job interview.
Let me know how it goes!