How can I handle anxiety about an upcoming performance evaluation?
November 2, 2018 7:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm feeling anxious about an upcoming performance evaluation at work because of a bad experience in the past and not sure how best to handle things.

At my job, we have performance evaluations every 6 months. Usually the evaluations involve a bit of discussion between the leader and the employee. At my last evaluation, I tried to make the point that I deserved a higher rating in a few of the categories on our evaluation and that the way he was evaluating me in one category was unusual (very different from how other leaders evaluated that category). My leader disagreed and kept the scores as he originally had them and that was fine. On our performance evaluation, we have a section for the employee to provide comments. So, I wrote some comments about why I disagreed with my leader's evaluation. Afterwards, my leader said he would have to amend his own comments in response. He updated his comments to say that I wasn't receptive to feedback and that he didn't know why I was arguing this point. I sent him a quick email explaining that I was arguing the point because I honestly felt like he was wrong and that it was important for me to speak up when I felt like I was being treated unfairly. Shortly after I sent the note, he came to my desk and asked me to step into a meeting room with him. He seemed very upset and angry and said how disappointed he was in me and he kept pressing me about what I hoped to gain out of this. I tried to explain that it wasn't about "getting something out of it" and I was speaking up because I thought it was the right thing to do. We were in the meeting room for about 20 minutes.

I suffer from anxiety. The whole experience was very triggering and at the meeting I had an anxiety attack. I wasn't expecting his reaction at all because if one of the people who reported to me disagreed with me, I'd encourage them to speak up about it. I had trouble sleeping for days after this happened. My next performance evaluation is coming up at the end of the year. I don't want to give any feedback or make any comments when it happens. The thought of it is very triggering for my anxiety. But, at the same time, it will look odd if we have the performance evaluation and the discussion is entirely one-sided with me saying very little. I don't know how to gracefully say that I'm very uncomfortable adding any comments based on what happened before. I don't know how to handle this. I've been up at night dreading my next performance evaluation because of this. Can anyone give me suggestions for how to handle this?
posted by NoneOfTheAbove to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One thing that has always helped me is to remember that they don't schedule performance reviews to fire you. If they're gonna fire you, they just call you into HR on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. The fact that something is scheduled means that, however bad the review may be, you're probably going to keep going.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:40 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had a terrible boss recently who would write things like “so and so cleans up spills in a timely manner” on professional staff’s performance reviews. It was really stressful to be reviewed by her because I felt like whatever I did, it couldn’t hange the (mostly negative) way she saw me and things she wrote. The strategy my therapist suggested was to just decide, and write down somewhere private, what my goals were for the review. I decided on: don’t get flustered, get one useful glimmer of feedback from the interaction, and talk as little as possible. Once I took the power of deciding what a successful interaction was away from her, I felt more in control of the situation (from my point of view). It really helped my anxiety to remove her ability to make me upset. Hope that makes sense!
posted by itsamermaid at 7:59 PM on November 2, 2018 [9 favorites]

So what you're saying is, you complained about your male boss in a performance review, and he intimidated you?

And then he trapped you in a room for 20 minutes?

And now you have anxiety about your upcoming review? That sounds like a toxic workplace to me, my friend.

I think, if you want to keep your job, just say and write whatever to get yourself ahead, and look to move laterally in your place of employment or look elsewhere for a job. It's not anxiety, it's crap.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, this sounds like completely justified anxiety to me. That is not how performance reviews are meant to be used. If it's the same jerk, prepare yourself that he may want to "prove" something to you about your position this time in order to keep fighting the point from last time. Spend some time accepting this could happen and how you plan to deal with it if it does happen. You have the choice to react, or not.

What you do should depend on if you need to stay in this company or not. If you want to stay, I would steel yourself to comment as appropriate, but not get drawn into any kind of discussion about your comments. "Thanks for your thoughts, that's my view and I don't wish to alter my commentary." If he demands a meeting to discuss it, ask for HR to be present. (I don't trust HR, but in this case, it will probably cause him to back down.)

If there's any way you can get away from the company, then by all means leave the comment section blank and avoid the fight. You can kick that jackass on the way out the door.

For the record, as a manager, I would fire any manager who reported to me who behaved in the way you describe. With prejudice. So please don't feel this is your problem. It's his.
posted by frumiousb at 8:18 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

My guess is that your boss reacted the way he did because he feared that your comments would reflect negatively on him.

Really, though, my first thought here was "this is not how a performance review should be handled." My experience with performance reviews is that they are kept bland and mostly positive and more serious, detailed, feedback - or criticism - happens off the record. Tell your boss that you would like to have a frank discussion about this, but keep it off the record. If he behaves in a hostile manner then consider escalating things and/or looking for a new job.

One other thing that may help with your anxiety: if your overall ratings are good, these particular categories may not matter very much.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:35 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Really, though, my first thought here was "this is not how a performance review should be handled." My experience with performance reviews is that they are kept bland and mostly positive and more serious, detailed, feedback - or criticism - happens off the record.

As a manager, this is pretty much the opposite of my experience. For example, if you want to take action to remove an employee for performance reasons, you must document it, and a performance review is one of the best possible ways to do that. Also in any workplace that has performance ratings, management generally will expect to see a certain number of "meets expectations" ratings, a certain number of "exceeds expectations", a certain number of "needs improvements", and so on and if an organization or manager isn't meeting that distribution they are going to need to justify themselves.

Anyway, I will say that as you've learned, arguing with your manager about your performance rating is rarely going to lead to a positive outcome. You are not really expected to provide your assessment of the accuracy of your review, so I don't think it makes sense to spend time worrying about how you are going to approach that. The way you should approach that is: don't.

Instead, your role in the conversation is to figure out how you are going to change your behavior to respond to your manager's feedback, and what you need from your manager to support you in that. The answer to those two questions is what you should be putting in the comments field. (And if you think your manager's behavior is upsetting, and that their feedback is so stupid and off-base and wrong that you completely object to changing your behavior to respond to it, you should look for another job.)
posted by phoenixy at 11:01 PM on November 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I don't know how to gracefully say that I'm very uncomfortable adding any comments based on what happened before.

Then say it ungracefully. Get it on the record.
posted by flabdablet at 3:46 AM on November 3, 2018

Hey, NoneOfTheAbove. Anxiety really sucks. If you aren't already, consider working with your doctor or a therapist to address it.

Speaking up for yourself does not have to mean arguing the point until you win. It can mean making your point and then letting it go. It's okay to consider what's at stake and what the chance of changing someone else's opinion is, and not argue or argue minimally.

Anyway, I will say that as you've learned, arguing with your manager about your performance rating is rarely going to lead to a positive outcome.

This has been my experience.

Here's what I would do in your shoes - don't worry about arguing the point, but your review document probably a section where you do a self-review, that you complete before you meet and discuss with your boss. Document the crap out of yourself. All the good stuff, all your strengths, all your growth. In that way you have pre-emptively "argued" with any negative feedback. Your POV re your performance will be obvious.

As someone with anxiety, I've had a tendency to get defensive when I receive negative feedback. I've learned to just slow things down. If I have a good relationship with my boss I'll ask questions. "Can you give me an example of a time when I didn't communicate well? Can you give me specific examples of what better communication would look like? What could I do that would improve this area? Is there any training or coaching available to help me develop these skills?"

Sometimes bosses put down really silly examples because they can't think of anything else - and I've come to see this as a good thing - the boss is stretching to come up with something negative to say b/c the form requires it. I have an absolutely ridiculous feedback item that my boss brings up in every review. I finally stopped fighting it and just made up a "plan" to fix it and report back to him on my progress. He's happy now because he did his job as a boss by giving me feedback that led to my, ha, "growth." And it didn't hurt me to make the adjustment.
posted by bunderful at 5:23 AM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

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