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I had trouble having open conversations with my former boss because he was defensive and took disagreement as a threat. He did two performance reviews with me and my problems between the two were very similar; which I consider bad since the point of a performance review is for me to change what I'm doing wrong.

I think one problem was the information I was getting was very general, for example saying the speed I do work is slow. Am I right in thinking that's not enough information to act on by itself saying "I work slowly" or is there a way for me to improve it? I asked him for an example and he came up with one (in my opinion) very pathological example and I could have argued it (I could not have done the job faster because I needed a password from someone who was on holiday). I realize it's probably not constructive arguing whether a particular example is "my fault or not", maybe I should ask him if he would like to be informed if there was a set back?

He indicated I was slow to learn. Should I have asked how long something should take to learn? I'm not sure how to act on this.

Another example of something I did not improve on was initiative. I had made a big attempt and had been asking my boss if I could do certain things but he always said no. He said I need to be told to do things. How do I work on initiative? When I asked how I can improve on my initiative my boss answered "you can't always be tied to someones hip" which I don't know how to take as a constructive comment.

Closely tied to the initiative, both reviews he indicated I ask too many questions. I tried to stop asking questions and managed to get it down to once a week. Was I heading in the right direction with this approach? I've seen other answers for similar questions saying management does this because they are busy and want an employee to work for themselves so is one not supposed to talk to their boss unless asked a question? To draw a picture we sat across a desk from each other so we were always in ear shot. There must be a point where it gets absurd: what's the point of working with people if your never supposed to speak to them?

closed as unclear what you're asking by CincinnatiProgrammer, Michael Grubey, jcmeloni, jmac, squeemish Sep 26 '13 at 0:56

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    I understand what your boss is getting across just by reading your post. What exactly do you need specifics for? It seems you take too long to get a job done, don't pick up new things quickly, and ask too many meandering questions that your manager does not have time for. – squeemish Sep 23 '13 at 11:29
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    If you want actual improvement you have to set benchmarks. "Too slow" is measurable. Begin setting time benchmarks on work items. "Too many questions" is measurable. Begin marking down a count for each time you ask a question. – Joel Etherton Sep 23 '13 at 12:47
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    It sounds like the biggest issue is that you don't understand your evaluation. Your review is to review your performance -- you are responsible for improving it. See this answer and this answer to (hopefully) explain what your boss is thinking a bit. – jmac Sep 24 '13 at 2:51
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Am I right in thinking that's not enough information to act on by itself saying "I work slowly" or is there a way for me to improve it? I asked him for an example and he came up with one (in my opinion) very pathological example and I could have argued it (I could not have done the job faster because I needed a password from someone who was on holiday).

Do not argue with your boss's opinion during a performance review. You should not be making him feel defensive, you should be talking about a plan for the future.

There's lots of actions you can take based on your boss's comments.

1) Forget the past.

2) Tell your boss that you'd like immediate notification if he thinks something you're working on is taking too long.

3) Ask him it's okay if you stop by once-a-week to tell him what you're doing, how you're approaching the task and ask for feedback. If he gives you good feedback, for 52 straight weeks, you won't get a bad review.

4) When you receive a task ask your boss how long he thinks it should take. If you disagree have a discussion.

5) If you're think there's risk of not meeting a deadline go immediately to your boss and tell him. Ensure that he's never negatively surprised.

6) Give reasonable estimates about how long something will take; and then meet the estimates.

Closely tied to the initiative, both reviews he indicated I ask too many questions.

1) Rather than going to your boss with a question, go to him with options.

2) Research and find several ways of solving a problem and ask him to choose which one he likes the best.

3) Present a plan and then ask him if there's anything you've overlooked.

  • I reconsidered and "You should not be making him feel defensive" you can't control the way other people feel and it's not really an employees job to try and control if his boss feels defensive. – Arnakester Oct 24 '13 at 21:14
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    @Arnakester, it is actually your job to manage your boss and how he reacts to you. Arguing with the boss in a performance review is almost a guarantee of more bad reviews. It is the short-sighted thing to do. So yes, you need to be considering how people will react to what you say and whether that reaction is the one you want. You can't control all reactions but you have to try to communicate so that they are less likely to react negatively. – HLGEM Nov 27 '13 at 15:35
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A performance review is not the place for

  • very specific reprimands such as "on the 17th of July you took three hours to do something that should have taken only 5 minutes"
  • surprises

Instead it would ideally be a summary. "As you know, we met a few times in July about tasks taking far too long and identified a pattern of not getting required information in advance, leading to problems being blocked. I've noticed no improvement on this front. We need to talk about possible solutions to this issue because it is outweighing the good work you are doing." Or, "As you know, we met a few times in July about tasks taking far too long and identified a pattern of not getting required information in advance, leading to problems being blocked. I've noticed a significant improvement: well done."

So ok, you don't have that kind of boss. I recommend you stop asking "wait, tell me more about that, I need you to prove it was too slow, I don't think I was too slow, I didn't have what I needed to do it - " and go with "do you have any suggestions for how I can avoid this in the future?" Despite its name (performance review) a good review spends very little time on what has already happened and focuses on what's going to happen. What training and opportunities you will be given, what goals you will strive for, and so on.

You haven't told me (because you probably don't know, because your boss is a poor communicator) what your boss wants on the "Arnakester is too slow" front. Some bosses are actually only objecting to not being told when there are delays. Some want you to plan better so there won't be delays. Some want you to just get faster at coding or drawing or editing or whatever you do. You must learn this during your review. You cannot get an "improved" review next time if you don't know what you're being measured against.

Ask for a meeting with your boss. Say that you don't think you were listening properly or asking the right questions. (Do not say that your boss didn't tell you what you need.) Basically have a do-over of the part of the meeting where you discuss what to do about the issue and how you (and your boss) will know you have improved.

  • The 'specific' reprimand seemed to stem from asking for specifics -- not from the boss intentionally reprimanding. And none of these seem to be surprises, as the question states "He did two performance reviews with me and my problems between the two were very similar" – jmac Sep 23 '13 at 23:34
  • @Kate could you please elaborate on what you mean by a performance review isn't the place for specifics? In about grade 2 I learned a problem is best addressed when specifics are used and I've never had an experience in life that contradicts this. – Arnakester Sep 27 '13 at 23:51
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    Specific reprimands should be delivered as needed, not saved up for a review. In a review you can review the specific reprimands you gave earlier. But to raise "6 weeks ago you ... and 8 weeks before that you ..." etc for the first time in a review is wrong. – Kate Gregory Sep 28 '13 at 2:04
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I don't think you have a great boss, so other than tell you to look for another job, here are some things to consider. Annual reviews are not just wortless, they're detrimental, but you have to work with the system you're given.

the speed I do work is slow

Of course this is a vague comment and your boss probably doesn't have a lot of data to support this claim but you don't have any to dispute it either. When you're given something to do, you should provide a time estimate whether your boss asks for one or not. Get some feedback on whether or not this is fast enough. Maybe there are factors that need to be considered before you agree on a time-frame. Even if there isn't an approval process, you have a document indicating the time estimate and your boss hasn't indicated it's too slow. Then all you have to do is meet these due dates.

he indicated I ask too many questions

Most people don't ask enough. You may find that there are times that are more convenient for your boss to answer questions. Don't hang around his office waiting for him to be available. Send and email to make an appointment. Do as much as you can over the phone or in email. Your boss has this impression of you being "tied to the hip" so spend less time in face to face meetings. See if there are other people you can ask questions.

He said I need to be told to do things

Your boss and/or company doesn't seem to appreciate any sort of creativity out of there employees. Since you're getting so little feedback, if you think something will make your work faster and ask fewer questions, just do what you think is right. It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

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Before determining the best way to approach a performance review at your company you need to understand a little more about your company, your boss, and your self.

The first thing you need to know is that formally the performance review should be where your boss provides you information about your performance with the hope that feedback and coaching can help you grow as an employee within the company. With that being said, most companies and bosses do it wrong or they do it for very dark and twisted reasons even.

Many employers will use the promise of great rewards on good performance but the catch is that they have a financial incentive to pay you as little as possible for the most work. They will often nitpick and find fault in small things, or they will even go so far as to lie just to give you a bad performance review. They want to give you a bad review because if they give you a good review then they would feel compelled to give you a raise. If you got a good review and they didn't give you a raise then your incentive to work hard and put in extra hours would be gone.

This all of course doesn't work without just a little bit of hope that you might win your bosses approval someday. If your boss never once gives you hope of approval, then it is entirely possible that he is just a terrible person who treats people badly and he has no scheme. A little bit of hope though is a sign of something even more sinister.

You need to determine if you feel your company:

  1. Pressures you into extra hours
  2. Promises great rewards on good performance
  3. Has high turnover
  4. Occasionally gives you hope that you can one day be better

If this is the case then you are in a powerless situation with nothing much that you can really do. If this is the case then in your bosses eyes you will never be good enough, despite what he says. You might need to learn to accept it and do as little as possible to avoid being fired, or just find a new job.

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