We all have a different relationship with our work–and therefore, with our performance reviews.

Maybe, you love your job and hope to stay for the foreseeable future. Perhaps, your job is a significant source of stress in your life. You could have a fantastic bond with your boss, or it could be less-than-favorable. Performance reviews and the stress that comes with them also differ based on your responsibilities and job title. 

Regardless of your specific work situation, a performance review is likely to be nerve-wracking in some way. After all, you’re being scrutinized and evaluated. Whether your review is favorable or not, the emotional stakes are high. So how can you mentally prepare for a performance review, keeping your emotions in check?

The purpose of a performance review

First, let’s get clear on the big picture: what is the point of a performance review? What is actually at stake?

Performance reviews are standard in many workplaces, and they typically occur once or twice every year. A performance review is an assessment of your work performance that may be used to determine adjustments to your role, whether you get a promotion, or even the future of your position. Often, performance reviews mark the time of year when you receive an offer for a raise (or ask for one), which can feel particularly high-stakes. 

Usually, you and your higher-up will sit down together one on one to discuss your strengths, weaknesses, areas you can improve and what you bring to the workplace. It’s a chance to:

  • Reflect on your habits, good and bad
  • Note how you work on a team
  • Assess where you could make improvements
  • Receive positive feedback on your performance
  • Share how you think you’re doing
  • Collaborate on solutions, going forward

When you’re preparing for a performance review, it’s easy to forget that this is a two-sided conversation. This is an opportunity to show that you care about your work and its ripple effect beyond yourself. You can ask questions like:

  • Am I working in a way that helps my team members succeed?
  • What could I be doing better?
  • Is there anything I should definitely keep doing?
  • What does my future with this company look like?
  • If I have concerns about the workplace or higher-ups, what’s the best way to express them?

What isn’t a performance review?

  • A judgment on your value as a human being
  • An opportunity to vent
  • A time to give excuses

If you’re an employer seeking an alternative to performance reviews, there are other options. Some experts say that coaching, casual check-ins, asking employees to self-rate their performance, and various additional ideas are more efficacious.

How to mentally prepare for a performance review

Since you’re not the one leading the meeting, it can be hard to know how it will actually go. However, you can mentally prepare yourself for a performance review, so that you can keep an even emotional keel no matter what exactly happens. 

Make a list of your workplace achievements.

This is helpful for a couple of reasons. When you make a list of your achievements in the workplace, it’s both a chance to show your employer your value in the workplace and a chance to go into the review confidently and with personal knowledge of your successes. If you intend to ask for a raise or negotiate the amount of a raise, this can be particularly important. 

Keep a healthy perspective on the hard parts.

Typically, the part of a performance review that brings the most nervousness is the critical aspect. Some of us are more sensitive to criticism than others, and even if we want to improve or the critique isn’t all that harsh, it can still be nerve-wracking. 

So, the most important thing you can do is keep a healthy perspective on criticism, so that you can prepare a healthy response. Do what you can internally to see feedback as a helpful suggestion rather than an attack. 

When you hear how you can improve, as long as it’s fair and you’re willing to do it, plan to say something like, “Thank you! That is a great point, and I want to work on it.” It’s also ideal to ask a question in many cases, especially if the feedback was vague in any way. For example, you might thank your employer and proceed to ask, “What can I do to implement a better solution?” or “What would your suggestion look like in action?” 

This kind of response is more likely to satisfy your employer because it displays engagement, gratitude, and enthusiasm. It shows that you want to do your best work. 

If your instinct is to get defensive or upset, having these loosely-prepared ideas as to how you want to respond to your employer can take some of the stress off of you. 

Use this opportunity to set goals

Go into your performance review knowing that it’s a chance to obtain information. Make it your objective to leave the review with not just a clear goal but clear steps toward your goal: What do you want to work on between this review and the next? 

As the review goes on, keep this in mind. If you’re unclear at any point in time, especially at the end of the review, as to what exactly you need to do at work to succeed, ask for clarification and the specific steps your employer wants you to take. If you follow those steps, you’ll know you’re doing the best you can. You want to ensure that you’re clear on exactly what is being asked of you, as it can relieve some nerves. It also sets you up to enter your next review with confidence! Additionally, if you think of a goal that you want to work on in the future prior to your performance review, you can bring it up to your boss while you talk. It’s a great way to show that you care about your work. 

Remember to look at the bigger picture

There are a number of different cognitive distortions that can show up before (or during) a performance review. Most notably, magnification or discounting the positive

Magnification means to make something “bigger than it is,” whereas discounting the positive means “hearing/focusing on the negative alone.” 

Many of us tend to over-value critical feedback and under-value positive feedback. If these tend to show up for you, remember to look at the bigger picture and be ready to reframe your thoughts if you need to. While a performance review is important, this is one small moment in your life. It’s unlikely that it’ll shape the rest of your life or even your career. Remember that, most often, the person who writes your performance review is required to pinpoint something you can work on. Feedback is part of the process, and it isn’t a punishment. 

Recognize the positives in the conversation just as much as the parts that are more challenging to hear. To mitigate self-doubt after the fact – or during the review – you can also make a mental note to return to your list of workplace accomplishments. Think about a day at work where you felt good about what you did, and remember that you are valuable in your role.

Plan for self-care 

If you find it helpful, plan for self-care before and after your review. It can be whatever meets your personal needs most appropriately. For example, you can plan to spend time outdoors, do something active that helps you blow off steam, call a friend, or treat yourself to something that you know will boost your confidence. 

Know that it doesn’t reflect your worth

Last but not least, know that your performance review at work doesn’t reflect your worth as a person. You don’t have full control over what happens during your performance review. All that you can do is control how you react and what you do as you move forward to improve your job performance.

Know that your worth is inherent regardless, and if you are in a situation where you don’t mesh well with your current job or have a boss that you don’t get along with, there are a lot of other people out there who go through the same thing.

Talk to someone

Do you need someone to talk to about workplace issues? Or maybe something else? 

Social support is shown to help individuals cope with stress, and it can be a crucial aspect of self-care after a performance review. If you need someone to talk to but want to remain anonymous, Supportiv can help. Supportiv is available 24/7, and it’s a low-cost way to talk to someone who gets it. Click “Chat Now” to get started, or look at our FAQ page to learn more.