I’d rather go to the dentist than do a performance review

As soon as I bit that piece of candy I knew it was trouble.  Yes, I chipped a tooth and that meant a trip to the dentist.  The process of getting a crown wasn’t that bad though.  Then again, I used noise cancellation headphones to drown out the sound of the drill.  I also asked the dentist to use both Novocaine and Nitrous Oxide.  In short, you could say that I really didn’t want to be there. So where does the phrase “I’d rather go to the dentist than [you fill in the blank]” come from? What type of task or obligation is so hideous that you’d rather subject yourself to a root canal than deal with the event?  A simple search uncovered a few examples:

  • According to research from an insurance company 39% of women would rather go to the dentist than talk to their spouse about their daily finances.
  • According to a travel survey 54% would rather go to the dentist than sit in the middle seat on an airplane.
  • 40% of Americans think filling out income tax forms is worse than going to the dentist.
  • According to a technology company survey 40% said they would rather go to the dentist than deal with poor customer service.

Where do you stand on the following statement?

“I’d rather go to the dentist than do a performance review.”  For many people this statement rings true.  And it’s often the case for both the giver and receiver of the review!  The performance review is a high-stakes conversation for both parties.  The risk of frustration, disappointment and even anger is possible if not approached correctly.  How do you conduct a powerful and effective performance evaluation?  How do you approach your own evaluation?  Here are my approach considerations for both sides of the evaluation desk:

Giving:

  1. An effective boss will not save his constructive criticism for the annual evaluation, but will be offering feedback throughout the year.  Reduce the stress by making your reviews a process rather than once-yearly events.  Nothing in the evaluation should be a complete surprise to the employee, so if you check-in via brief meetings on a quarterly basis you can make small incremental changes along the way when needed.
  2. Talk about goals and talent development as part of your appraisal.  These topics introduce positive feelings and the sense of working together to develop skills and align tasks.  In addition, find at least one or two aspects of their job performance that are good and start there. We all need validation. That enables you to come across as fair and helps the person being reviewed to be receptive to hearing about the areas that he or she needs to improve on.
  3. Tie your performance reviews in with career planning, succession planning, and leadership development. The review can become a fountain of opportunities, in many cases, that will prompt employees to participate enthusiastically.  But remember, criticism, even legitimate criticism, is hard to take, so be as diplomatic as possible in how you word the person’s weaknesses. Make it “you can improve this” rather than “here’s where you messed up.”
  4. Make sure to ask the employees how they feel about their own performance and ways you could be a better boss to them. A humble boss is a boss people want to work for and work hard for.

Receiving:

  1. Recognize the difference between feedback and criticism. Your manager is probably trying to help you improve for the coming year rather than penalizing you for the past.  And that’s something you want to do, right?  So, even if you have been excelling, try not to go into the evaluation expecting only to be showered with praise.
  2. Listen first and try not to react immediately after hearing criticism. Take a day or two to absorb it and then get back to your boss with a response if you feel the need to. Time will allow you to respond rather than react.
  3. Look past the critical language to see the basis of the criticism, and strive to understand it.  Try to develop empathy for your boss who has the tough job of trying to assess your performance.  Empathy goes a long way toward helping you be receptive to what he or she is saying.
  4. Use “I” statements to keep things more objective. “What I hear from your feedback is that I sometimes invite too many people to my meetings.” Couple this kind of sentence with another “I” statement that suggests specific things you can do differently.  “What I could do is invite fewer people and then provide a summary of the meeting to my team.”
  5. Take advantage of opportunities for setting clearer goals and developing your skills. One approach is to sit down after your meeting, consider the constructive feedback, and come up with a few ideas for developing your skills in those areas.  You can then bring those up with your manager.

Criticism is both hard to give and hard to take. We want people to like us. We want to succeed. So it can be difficult to tell an employee something he or she may be disappointed to hear and it’s equally difficult to be on the receiving end of that criticism. But disappointment, even frustration, can teach and can help motivate change. So be brave and know that, at least evaluations, unlike a trip to the dentist, should not leave you with fear of leaving with a fat lip!

 

 

1 Comment

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