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Tips for Performance Review Anxiety


It’s mid-year, which means for many working in technology, the time for performance reviews has arrived. While well intentioned and useful, this often leads to a time of anxiety for both managers and reports. Below are some common questions we hear at Good Therapy SF, along with some tips to help with this particular type of stressor.

I don’t know how to say what I want without sounding overly critical

  • There is a delicate line that exists when providing critical feedback to someone.

  • If you are managing an individual or team, there’s a good chance you have already demonstrated an ability to discuss challenging topics in a tactful way.

  • The mental trap to avoid is assuming your report will be offended or hurt by the feedback.

  • If you are assuming this, then it is likely you are treating that person in an overly fragile way. In its most extreme form, psychology calls this infantilization (treating someone like an infant).

  • Try to keep in mind most people respond well to difficult conversations, and they are capable of hearing difficult feedback.

  • If this is a pattern for you, then it’s possible that a part of your core value system is too heavily based on being liked by others.

  • In these cases, therapy is useful in helping people have a more balanced view of themselves.


I’m afraid of what I’m going to hear

  • Anticipatory anxiety is always rated as more intense than the event itself.

  • Prior to the performance review meeting, people’s thoughts become fixated by assuming the worst case scenario is going to happen.

  • Additionally, this worst case scenario is too generalized and lacking detail, making the anxiety more intense.

  • To help reduce the fixation and gain more clarity, try to use a visualization skill.

  • Prior to the meeting, image the three worst case scenarios.

  • For each scenario, visualize the worst case happening, including what happens after the worst case scenario. The goal is to visualize how you will respond in an adaptive way.

  • Repeat these visualizations several times per day leading up to the meeting.

  • Performers, athletes, and former Good Therapy SF clients have all benefited from this skill

I worry about what I’m going to say if I don’t receive the review I want

  • Despite their best intentions, sometimes people will say something they later regret.

  • There are many reasons why this happens, but ultimately people say regretful things because they feel invalidated.

  • Thoughts like “It’s not fair…They don’t understand how hard I work…I’m being punished” are all associated with invalidation.

  • When we feel invalidated, we use this as justification for why we are “allowed” to say what we want.

  • In the moment, awareness is going to be the most helpful skill. Recognizing that subconsciously we feel justified can reduce the intensity of the invalidated feeling.

  • Of course, awareness is a skill that is difficult to cultivate without practice.

  • To develop it over time, try to notice the micro invalidations you feel during the day. The more often you are able to notice this, the less likely you will say something regretful during intense meetings.

It’s my fault if I’m not able to help my report receive a promotion

  • When advocating for a report’s promotion, it’s not unusual for managers to feel an all or nothing sense of responsibility.

  • Often the problem happens when self worth is dependent upon performance.

  • One way to create a healthier separation of worth and performance is to write down the facts of the situation, followed by the assumptions of the situation.

  • For example, if a manager is unable to advocate for a report’s promotion, a fact would be “Sarah did not get promoted.” The assumption would be “I should have helped Sarah get promoted no matter what.”

  • Thought records are also a proven strategy to challenge all or nothing thinking

Feel free to contact Good Therapy SF for more help with this, and other anxiety issues.