Managing the Inevitable Poor Review

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It happened.  A less than stellar review.  Your boss, your co-worker, your client, your spouse, your kids – someone has spoken up and proclaimed, “There is a gap between your performance and my expectation.”

Ouch.

And if this weren’t painful enough – I’ve got bad news.  To the extent you work with people, this is likely going to happen on a regular basis.  I don’t care what anyone says – it’s challenging.  Left unchecked these messages can call into question our capabilities, our work ethic, even our intentions.  Self-esteem gets dragged in.  We can want to lash out in an effort to protect ourselves.  We can want to make sure that those who have caused our struggle are named in the indictment.  The feeling of loss can be palpable.

Finding healthy pathways through moments like these is more than an act of will – its damn hard work.  The collective tapes of these conversations can run for a long time in our memory constantly inviting us to distraction.  Honing the skills of emotional intelligence, resilience and leadership are one of the soundest ways that I’ve found to cope in both the short and the long term.

Here are few tools that I’ve found helpful.

  1. Manage yourself early. Getting tough feedback is uncomfortable at best – maddening at worst.  There’s no need to be in denial about that.  Do you have an opinion about the feedback you are getting?  Sure you do.  Do you have emotion?  Of course.  Now – don’t let either run away with you.  Know your strengths, vulnerabilities and triggers at times like these.  As you feel them emerge – see them for what they are and let them be what they are.  But don’t give them power to captain your responses.  Manage yourself.
  2. Remember – there’s more than enough blame to go around. Don’t get me wrong – I am a part of the mess.  I don’t get it right every time.  But it’s never helpful for me (no matter how much someone wants me to believe it) to tell myself that I am the only source of any particular challenge that is going on around me.  Own your stuff – but realize that this is probably bigger than you.
  3. If someone is pushing on you with disapproval – stay curious.  To the extent that we are able to allow our curiosity to stay center stage at a moment like this is generally the extent to which we can be more present and teachable.  Almost always, when I value my learning over my self-justification, I like myself better in the end.
  4. Take care of yourself. Need to vent?  Go for it.  But do it wisely.  Find a friend, go out for a cool drink and (in confidence) tell them what you really think.  But I encourage you not to stop there.  For me – venting only gets me so far.  Find a healthy context to process your feelings and your learning.  For me, this tends to happen with a mature friend or coach.  Someone who listens well and can ask good questions.  Someone who is as interested in my learning as they are my support.

This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list but I have found these basics to be a great starting place in my effort to better manage the inevitable poor review.

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