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Most people feel at least a little nervous when they receive a performance review or annual evaluation. Someone with the power to affect your paycheck, benefits and employment has been scrutinizing how you do what you do, and they’re about to tell you what they really think. Your future raises and promotions hang in the balance.

Strategic employees view evaluations as opportunities. A performance review allows you to receive feedback that helps you better understand what your supervisor values. It’s also a chance to build rapport. Ask the right questions to understand how you’re doing and where you can better align organizational needs with your career goals.

Why Your Questions Matter

It’s rare to have an opportunity to sit down one-on-one and have an open conversation about your job performance. When you show up prepared with a list of questions, you demonstrate you care about more than just getting more money, dodging criticism or receiving an ego boost. Thoughtful questions show you’re invested, engaged and interested in helping the company move forward.

Asking the right questions can also help you toward the kind of future you want. If you receive actionable insight into your growth areas, it’s easier to set career development goals. Your questions can also let your boss know you’re committed to doing what it takes for long-term success.

How could I stand to grow or improve?

This is a hard question to ask because the answer could highlight gaps or weaknesses. It would make you feel good if your boss said, “You’re amazing, just please keep doing the excellent things you’re doing.” If you’re happy with your current role and pay that might be okay. But for most of us, there are things we can do to reach a new personal best, and we might not be able to see them.

Sometimes bosses are hesitant to broach the subject because they’re mostly satisfied with your work, and they don’t want to step on toes. Asking this question shows you want to focus on developing skills that are useful to your organization and that your supervisor’s opinions matter. It also can give insight into where the company is headed and what fresh opportunities might in your path.

How will you measure my performance in the future?

Ask for specifics on what success looks like in the next month, quarter, six months and year. When you know what performance indicators, milestones or outputs are important, you can focus on knocking them out one after another. If it seems appropriate, this might also be a logical place to ask about the timeline for bonuses or promotions.

Can you help me understand why I scored lower in these areas?

It stings to get less than perfect marks. But you can’t fix the problem if you don’t understand it. If you’re not sure why your manager indicated there’s a performance issue or gave you a low score, ask for insight on how you missed the mark.

Before you voice the question remind yourself to stay calm and avoid getting defensive. It may help to take notes because if you feel blindsided, the act of writing things down gives you precious seconds to process instead of having a knee-jerk response. Take their explanation as constructive feedback that will help you improve.

If you disagree with what your manager says, keep things polite and recognize perspective is subjective. The idea isn’t to figure out who is wrong, but to come up with a plan so you receive a more positive evaluation next time.

How can I better support my coworkers?

If your team members have made positive or negative comments about the work you do, it has almost certainly gotten back to your manager. Sometimes open communication can help resolve interpersonal issues that keep teams from being their most productive. Asking this question can make you aware of any small issues so you can address them before they become big ones.

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