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Jan Hills

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Evidence-based agony aunt: I feel like I’ve been harshly judged in my appraisal


Our evidence-based agony aunt, Jan Hills, uses findings from neuroscience and psychology to tell you how to solve your organisational problems in brain-savvy ways, that work with the mind’s natural tendecies and not against it. Got a problem you want her to look at it? Drop us a line at [email protected]. We’ll get back quickly.


“I’ve just had my annual performance review and I feel like I have been harshly judged. I thought I had a pretty good year and the feedback from peers and my team was good. My boss didn’t give a lot of details, but he rated me poorly, well below what I expected. I want to know what to say to him. I don’t want to go down a formal route but I do want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”


When we get negative feedback, our brain is in threat. It is best to overcome this sense before you have the discussion with your manager as in this mode you will be less resourceful, less creative and less open to new ideas.

Have the discussion with your manager in the best possible state of mind. You can get into this state by being well prepared. Rehearse what you are going to say and your manager’s potential comebacks. One technique which works well with the brain is to access a time when you were in the resourceful state.

The brain doesn’t know the difference between when we are imagining feeling resourceful and when we are actually being resourceful. So mentally rehearsing before a difficult meeting is very good preparation and begins to form the neural pathways for behaving resourcefully.

Also, having some questions that you rehearse and get comfortable saying can be useful so you are ready with both your state and what you are going to say.

Here are some examples that might be helpful.

“Can you give some specific areas where my performance is less effective?”

“How is my performance evaluated? What criteria is used?”

 “What is the most important criteria in evaluating my performance, the outcome I got or how I got there?”

“Who is a role model I can emulate to satisfy your criteria?

And for the longer-term this article will help.


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Jan Hills


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