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How Honest to Be at a Job Review

How Honest to Be at a Job Review

There are diplomatic ways to bring up your conflicts with co-workers without looking like a tattle-tale, or worse, someone who knows better than the boss

Liz Ryan / Business Week

Dear Liz,

It’s getting to be performance review time, and I’m wondering just how honest I can be with my boss. There are a lot of really good things about my job and my situation, but there are also things I’m not too happy about, such as having to pick up the slack for other people who don’t really pull their weight. I’m afraid if I focus on the negative stuff that my boss will think I’m just a whiner or a malcontent, but on the other hand, I feel like this is my chance to speak up. But the problem is: Shouldn’t my manager already be aware of the things that aren’t working? So I’m also afraid that if I point these things out, it looks like I think she’s not doing her job.

— Jessie

Dear Jessie,

This is a great, tricky question, and the answer depends in part on what you want. If you want your boss to make these problems go away, then for sure, your annual review is a great time to bring up the issues. In a minute, we’ll get to some ways to bring up the slacker co-worker issue without sounding like a whiner and without making your boss feel like you’re pointing the finger. But there could be a circumstance where your goal is to sail through the review discussion without any more discussion than needed. In that case—and plenty of BusinessWeek.com readers have been there—you just want to have the most positive performance-review conversation possible, without any risk of rancor or unpleasantness, and you want to get your raise and get out. In that case, you might save the “here’s what’s not working” talk for another time, perhaps a time when you and your boss are on a business trip together or away from the office for lunch.

If you don’t mind moseying into conversational territory less upbeat than “great job this year, Jessie; here’s your increase,” then here’s my advice. Broach the slacking teammates issue in the larger context of a “here’s my take on last year” observation. That might sound something like this:

“Frances, I’m really glad for the chance to talk about 2007. I was really proud of Accomplishments A, B, and C, and I’m sure you know that when the X and Y projects were completed, it was a huge relief for me. I was thrilled at the redesign of our marketing brochure, and I’m happy with the organizational changes we made in our department, although I can see that we still have a lot of work to do resolving J, K, and L. There were a few things that slowed me down last year, and I’d love your advice on those. I felt that quite often, I lost valuable time on meeting my goals when I found myself picking up the slack for Tom, Dick, and Harriet. Maybe you have some suggestions on how to solve that problem in ‘08. I love our team but I don’t want my deliverables to suffer when some of the gang doesn’t follow through.”

This way, you’re sharing the problem as a personal obstacle, rather than as a management problem the boss hasn’t handled. It may well be the case that your manager is unaware of the ball-dropping your colleagues have been doing, and by bringing it up this way you’re not saying “Why haven’t you solved this?” or blaming your manager for not having noticed the issue before.

Best of luck to you!

Cheers,

Liz

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