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Career Column: Performance Appraisal Blues

Dear Career Advisor:

I've been on my job for a little over a year and recently completed my annual performance appraisal. The process left me feeling deflated. I don't agree with some of the ratings so I would like to dispute them and get more feedback. Although my scores were slightly better than average, my overall rating wasn't the best that it's been. I received higher ratings at my previous job. How could this be when I keep getting better at my work every year? Should I just accept the current ratings or ask for a second look? In any case, what can I do to return to the high level of morale and motivation that I felt prior to the appraisal?

Broken Spirit

Dear Spirit:
Your interest in receiving more feedback on your recent performance is commendable. It shows that you value effective feedback. You obviously desire to be personally and professionally well-informed. Information is power in this case, as there seems to be nothing wrong with your overall performance. I once worked in a professional position in which the skill of "seeking clarification and information" was specifically included on the performance appraisal. Your own professional savvy is showing in the fact that you are now seeking clarification and guidance through this column. Any request for more feedback from your supervisor on personal performance will also be an empowering action. It can give you an opportunity to get information that leads to self- improvement. What employer wouldn't appreciate that? Kudos for your drive and courage. Your morale is another story.

Worker morale is affected more by self-talk than by the fleeting comments or assessments that others say or write. What do you say when you talk to yourself about your skills or the appraisal? Are you repeating the negatives and ignoring the positives? The conscious mind can only hold one thought at a time. It's up to you, to each of us, to determine what that thought will be. If self-talk is negative, we can immediately dispute it as soon as we become aware of its existence. So what if your overall appraisal wasn't "the best"? That doesn't make you a less than superior performer. Based on your last job, are you putting yourself down for not being up to par? Professional golfers aren't always up to par. Why should you be? Did you focus on your areas of strength, reading them again and again, as you looked at the ratings? Many times the natural anxiety brought about by being evaluated leads us to focus on negatives. I've tried highlighting my best ratings and reading them repeatedly -- even aloud.

Whether or not you ask for a second look from your supervisor, it's important to understand that the state of performance appraisals today has still not reached the level of rocket science. In other words, appraisals are not always valid or reliable. They usually involve a less-than-scientific measurement system of some kind, relying on subjective observation and personal opinion. Bias often creeps in, even when intentions are to be as objective as humanly possible, due to unconscious motives on the part of the person doing the rating. Even if your appraisal is re-done under the best circumstances, you may not get the scores you desire or deserve. Focusing on personal strengths and positive self-talk will go a lot farther to boost your motivation and performance than an ineffective appraisal ever will.

Keep up the good work.

Debi Carter-Ford is a professor of psychology and consultant to management in the areas of applied psychology and employee training. Questions and comments may be sent to careers@dunsonandassociates.com.
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