Thoughts on my annual performance evaluation

Dear Brooke,

Here’s my circumstance: I had my annual performance evaluation. The evaluation took place on the phone, as I am not co-located with my manager. The evaluation did – unexpectedly for me – not go well. My manager first – very briefly – noted the positive aspects of my performance, which were all rather aspects of my personality than performance related (high-energy, proactive, very eloquent and good communicator, well-organized). Then she moved to the negative feedback where my manager basically explained to me that while she promoted me last year to a senior level I have not been able to perform at that level. She noted in particular that my work lacks substance and skill. She was very clear and candid in her messages and did not sandwich anything with positive elements as in: “that’s what you will need to work on over the next year and I will support you in that”; or “I feel confident you can work on these issues”.
As I was unprepared for the feedback (as my own evaluation of my year’s performance had been very positive) I reacted in a confused manner. When I asked her what this meant in terms of my performance “grade” (we get grades which will be reflected in the system for the remainder of our career and matter a lot when we apply for other positions) she cut me off impatiently and said that she will discuss this with the council and she cannot give me any more feedback right now. When I asked what it meant in terms of future focus, she said: “I think I was clear”. When I continued to stammer questions to get more feedback and clarity from my manager she said: “I have to go now, we talk another time, I have to go now, bye” and hung up on me. I was left with many unanswered questions and lots of thoughts and negative feelings as you can imagine. Working through all of this now. I would need your feedback on three issues in particular:
1. Relationship with my manager: The call left me very confused in terms of the relationship I have with my manager. The interesting part is, that now that I am working on this, I have realized that I have had many situations where (female!) managers who used to be very big fans of me and my performance seem to have changed their impression of me at one point or another – usually about two years into the relationship. I understand that this is a pattern, but I do not understand yet what to do with it and how I can use these insights to positively influence my working relationship with this manager going forward.

2. Dealing with how the feedback made me feel: When I received the feedback, it felt to me like a parent was disappointed with me – her child – and told me off. And I felt like a child after the call: small, insecure, unprotected – and to be absolutely honest – unloved and unappreciated. I understand that these are all my own thoughts and have likely nothing to do with my manger. So, yes, I have that insight. But where do I go from here?

3. Dealing with the substance of the feedback: I have spent the past weeks to sift the feedback inside of me to take on board what is relevant to advance my work and separate it from issues that I do not believe to be a correct depiction of me/my performance. What I struggle with is that performance is always subjective to an extent. For example, I delivered a report that I think was of a high quality and standard and my manager told me in the call that she thinks it was not. But she did not provide me with any additional feedback as to what was lacking or what I should do to improve the quality. I have tried to engage with her on that but she has canceled calls that we scheduled to have this conversation or simply not shown up for the call/ I have thought about this over the past weeks and still do not believe that the reports’ quality was the problem. I believe my manager did not take the time to properly read the report. I feel confused with regard to whether it matters or not that my manger judges my performance very differently from my own judgement. Because, in the end: she will make the call whether or not to extend my contract. I can perform to the highest levels and if she thinks of me differently that won’t matter. So, what do I do with this. What should I think about this, then? Here’s my model:

C: My manager gave me negative feedback on a report
T: this is not correct, she did not take the time to read this properly
F: Angry, frustrated
A: Trying to demonstrate to my manager that she’s not correct in her assessment
R: My manager is frustrated with me

What’s an alternative model that helps me to proactively deal with this situation? The ones that I can come up with

C: My manager gave me negative feedback on a report
T: This is her opinion, not mine
F: neutral
A: I leave the report business behind. Do not engage with manager on report
R: No engagement with manager
My favorite model would be the one below, but it requires that my manager engages, which I do not seem to be able to get to…
C: My manager gave me negative feedback on a report
T: I need to understand what she did not like about the report
E: curious
A: inquire with manager what the issue is
R: can improve report to meet my manager’s standard

Lot’s of issues. Thanks for helping me with moving forward on this!