Preparing for Performance Reviews?

Q. It’s time for your yearly performance review. You aren’t expecting any big surprises, but you still feel a little nervous. How should you prepare for this meeting?

A. Start by making a list of your responsibilities at work and writing your own performance review in each of those areas, says Shawn Kent Hayashi, the founder of theProfessional Development Group and the author of “Conversations for Creating Star Performers.” “Thinking through how you’ve done,” she says, “will prevent you from overreacting to feedback because you know what to expect.”

Annual reviews give you the chance to discuss and formulate goals for the next year. Before the meeting, write down the goals you envision for yourself. These can be very specific, like reaching a certain sales target or mastering particular software, or something more general, like increasing professional development activities, says Stephen R. Balzac, president of 7 Steps Ahead, a management consulting firm in Stow, Mass., and a professor of organizational psychology at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

As you think about your work over the last year, try to anticipate anything negative that may come up in the review. Prepare for it by looking over old notes and e-mails to remember specific situations and your actions and behavior at the time, Mr. Balzac says. Good preparation will reduce anxiety.

Q. At the review, you get some very positive feedback. Can you use it as a springboard to ask for something you want?

A. Build on those positive feelings by saying you want to go further in 2012. “Talk about your strengths, how you want to use those to help the organization and where you see growth opportunities for yourself at the company,” says Kimberley Bohr, senior vice president for client development at Fierce, a leadership development firm in Seattle. If you have something specific in mind, like a role on a particular project, this is the time to bring it up, she says.

If you work for a very small company where the owners make decisions about pay raises, your review could be an appropriate time to ask for one, as long as you are a high performer, Ms. Hayashi says. Bigger companies, however, have a formal budget process and your boss will probably have to get approval from higher-ups to give you an increase. That can take a few months, she says, so bring up the issue to your boss at least two months before your review.

“There should never be surprises during your performance review, because it’s a summary of all the conversations you’ve had prior to it,” Ms. Hayashi says. “And that includes one about compensation.”

Q. What if the feedback is unexpectedly negative?

A. Even though your manager should have given you some advance warning of the criticism, take a deep breath before you speak, and don’t be defensive. “You never want your performance review to be confrontational, so start by thanking your manager for the valuable feedback,” says Ms. Hayashi, whose firm is based in Center Valley, Pa.

It’s important to be clear about the specific behavior your manager is criticizing, so ask for examples to help you better understand the problem. If your boss says you are too aggressive in meetings, for example, ask for instances of that behavior.