Winning Your Performance Review

Adapted from: Your Performance Review Went Really Wrong | HBR | Shyamli Rathore


Many of us let our jobs define our self-worth. Any negative messages we receive about our performance hugely impact our self-esteem.  This is not an uncommon feeling.

“In a performance review, while you can’t control what your boss will say to you, but you can control your own reactions.” The go-to strategy for dealing with criticism by author Shyamli Rathore is the SAFE (Stop-Acknowledge-Feel-Engage) technique.

The SAFE technique will help to remind yourself of your worth and manage your mental and emotional health in the face of tough feedback.


Manage your response upon receiving negative feedback.  Whether you agree or not, stop.

Do not argue or defend your position. Use a technique that can help you regulate your emotions and lower your stress level. Become aware of your physical and emotional reactions in the moment. Silently count to 10, and calm yourself as you listen.


Acknowledge your boss’s point of view before sharing your own. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions and your boss will be more likely to listen when you speak.

Paraphrase what your boss says in the form of a question. This shows that  you are listening and would prompt a deeper explanation of his or her statements: for example, “Could you help me understand why you say I lack leadership?”

Be aware of your tone. Keep your tone warm and your pitch low to diffuse tension.


Find a safe place, outside of the office to vent out your choked feelings. Even though you may feel isolated right after your conversation, remember that you are not in this alone.

Ask trusted friends or peers to hear you out.  They may be able to remind you of your accomplishments. Focus on understanding what it is about the feedback that really upset you. Shift your perspective -that the feedback was about the work, not you.


Seek out some candid feedback from people you trust. Ask for help in identifying your blind spots. You may ask, “What are three things you think I need to work on?”

Compare the feedback to what your manager said.

Use the following questions to guide you:

  1. Are there overlaps or patterns between the feedback my friends and my boss gave me?
  2. Have these weaknesses shown up in my life before? Can I identify when and where? Maybe at school or while doing volunteer work?
  3. Which points were raised by my boss do I agree with? What actions can I take knowing this?
  4. Do I need more information from my boss to succeed?
  5. Do I have another point of view that I would like to express to my boss? Do I have enough evidence to support my argument?

Equipped with these thoughts, set up some time with your boss. Acknowledging where you agree with him or her and presenting your action plans on the feedback demonstrates openness.

The SAFE method will not only allow you to process criticism more effectively but will help you discover your own potential.