My manager usually frames questions in such a way, that I would make confession of mistakes. For example: "Do you think you did well that job?"

In realilty the work didn't go 100 percent well. How can I avoid ratting myself and ask for constructive feedback?

  • If you rate yourself at 100%, what kind of constructive feedback could you expect other than you rated yourself too high? Otherwise, great job, there's nothing more anyone can add. – user8365 Jun 16 '14 at 1:53

I ask people that sort of thing for two reasons:

  • I don't actually know how that job went and whether you did well or not. I want you to tell me the truth
  • I know if the job went well and I've already decided who did well and who did poorly. I want to know if you're capable of evaluating your own performance.

It's pretty hard to know which question your boss is really asking. If it's the first, you might get away with "yes, we got the project finished on schedule and it was a success, and I think I did my part well" even if in fact you weren't fantastic. But if it's the second, that answer will sink you.

So my advice is don't think so hard. Tell the truth. And to make that easy, figure out the truth yourself before you're asked. On every project you should ask yourself: "did I do that job well?" And when the answer is no, you should ask why 5 times (search that phrase if you haven't heard it before) to learn more about what happened. This is actually less work than trying to figure out how not to blame yourself or how to phrase your answer in a way that doesn't make you look bad.

When your boss asks you, you can then reply something like "The end result was good, but there were some times when I had to work late to recover from a mistake" or "The end result was good, but the client wanted more communication from me" and show that you understand where you can improve. After you deliver this impression, sit still and listen. Your boss may elaborate, telling you another shortcoming you didn't notice about yourself, or explaining your team's priorities. This is really vital information that is not always discussed, so pay close attention.

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  • 3
    In addition, unless you're doing something you've done lots of times before, you should have learned something in the process - meaning that when you look back you'll find things that you could have done better except that you didn't know that when you did them because you learned it by doing them. Being able to identify what you learned is a valuable skill. – Jenny D Jun 15 '14 at 14:24

First you must disabuse yourself of the mindset that it's an interrogation; unless you've omitted some chunk of the question, it reads like a pretty straightforward request for feedback. You shouldn't be looking to escape the truth. I suspect that you may be distrusting of your manager, hence the need to either avoid responsibility or be otherwise not straightforward.

State the facts as you perceive them. Regardless of your answer, your manager probably already has his own assessment of the situation. Meandering about the obvious will win you no points. Honesty and ownership of the situation, however, will.

If however, you really need to absolve yourself of liability, you could use the time-honoured cop-out of:

In spite of [some limiting factors], I don't think I did quite as well as I should have.

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  • +1, but I disagree about the phrasing of the cop-out - it sounds too much like making excuses. I'd rather go for something more along the lines of "Even though [some factors you can't change], I don't think I did quite as well as I should have. I may have underestimated [some factors you can change], which I'll be more mindful of in future." or perhaps "[some factor] was definitely a limiting factor. Beyond that, there were a few small things I could've done better." – Bernhard Barker Jun 15 '14 at 0:21

What do you think appraisals are for? To praise a good job? Or to get you to look at yourself, identify areas that need working on, or that have improved over the project and set goals for your next appraisal?

You say your manager is asking questions that seek confessions of mistakes. I say you're looking at appraisals in the wrong way. Your manager is in fact asking you to look at yourself honestly, to identify what you did well, but also identify any areas that you need to improve on.

Nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, that's part of life. Your manager isn't expecting you to get everything 100% right, but when you do make a mistake you're expected to analyse it and learn from it. If you can show that by explaining what you did wrong, why it was wrong, what you learnt from the mistake and what you are going to do in the future to stop yourself from making that mistake again then your manager should be happy with your progress.

In answer to your question, you shouldn't try to avoid ratting yourself out as you put it. If your manager is paying enough attention it's likely they already know about your mistake. If a member of my staff skirted round an issue, or didn't admit to an error I knew about in an appraisal meeting with me then that would raise trust issues. I would start to doubt their word and their ability to be honest with me, and that's a much bigger issue than them making a mistake.

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You could say that in the beginning of the job you believed A,B and C that turned out to be incorrect and so in future jobs you'll be mindful of these beliefs. Consider that at the end of the job you may well have a very different perspective than you did at the beginning. While you may have tried 100 percent of what you knew at the time you have learned a few things and would like to know what else you could have done to be more successful in that job.

The key here is to admit that you've learned things while doing the job of questions to ask earlier or things to be aware that may not go like you thought.

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As was said elsewhere, managers usually have formed opinions themselves about how things went. But from these question they are looking for two important things from you:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Ability to improve

Self-awareness means you understand what went well and what went wrong. So for this reason alone it's important to give an accurate account of what you think went well and didn't. It shows that you understand what is good and bad. After all, if you don't realize what didn't go well, you are never going to be able to fix it. Which of course brings us to the second point. If you can not only identify things that didn't go well, but say "if I were doing this again I would do such-and-such a thing differently" that will help them believe you have item 2.

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If the manager asks you if you did well on that job, the manager is asking you for your input. When you say "The job didn't go 100% well. How can I avoid rating on myself", it looks like you want the manager to ask for your input only when things go 100% your way and the manager has nothing but nice things to say about you.

I am blunt. I am not afraid to say that I screwed up if it's indeed the case that I screwed up. I will tell my manager that I screwed up even if I were 10% responsible for a situation but if I had taken some extraordinary step such as taking - no, yanking - ownership of a task that a colleague was failing on would have changed the outcome. My managers appreciate my clear thinking, my unadorned opinion and my sound judgment, even if they don't appreciate from time to time that I am not high on tact. They don't have to like everything I say and in fact they don't. But I believe that my feedback keeps them grounded in reality and keep them away from any notions of wishful thinking. And it's important to them that their assumptions and presumptions are grounded in reality, because that's the basis for sound judgment and sound judgment is the basis for sound decisions. Neither weak and insecure managers nor weak, insecure professionals have any business being in the workplace.

I have found appraisals a useful examination for self-examination, a welcome forum for how the management sees me and conversely, how I see the management. I have had Alice-in-Wonderland appraisals that caused me to lose confidence in the intellectual honesty and judgment of my managers and motivated me to seek work elsewhere. I do not willingly continue to work for someone I don't trust, because I think it's bad karma and there is no good outcome from bad karma. Appraisals is a two-way street: they appraise me and I appraise them. And we have a right as well as a responsibility to each other to appraise each other.

Appraisals are a snapshot of what you are doing, and where you are going. If used as intended, they are a terrifically useful feedback mechanism for the appraisee as well as the appraisers. One key question that I have for my managers since I have a captive audience is "What is it that you'd like me to do for you and that you know I can do for you that I haven't been doing for you?"

You seem to see appraisals as either some kind of "how great you are" praise session or some kind of blame game session. I suggest that you disabuse yourself of that notion. If they had wanted to fire you for whatever reason, they would would have fired you without waiting for a formal appraisal to take place.

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