Research has found, that most people believe they are the best performer on the team and their perception of their own work is more positive than it may actually be. It’s cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kuger effect.

Thus, if you are someone who believes that your performance is without error…you may be falling victim to this bias. Or, if you have a relatively clear view of your own quality of work you may already know that there’s always room for improvement.

So, how do you figure out where you need improvement?

If you’ve ever experienced a performance appraisal in the government, you know that if any feedback is given beyond a numerical rating it’s likely vague, generic, and unactionable. There’s a number of reasons this may be happening, but you don’t have to be satisfied with this feedback.

Here are three tips to make sure you are ready for your next performance appraisal:

1. Be specific about what feedback you want.

Nine times out of ten, if you ask “How am I performing?” you will get an answer along the lines of “Good.” For this reason, to get the most useful feedback you need to be specific. Here’s some questions you might ask:

  • What do you look for when reviewing a report? What are some things I could work on to improve my reports?
  • I’ve been working on being more concise in the briefings I give. Would you observe me tomorrow and provide some specific feedback on where I could have been more to-the-point?
  • Since you hear people brief senior leadership frequently, are there things I should keep in mind while I prepare for my briefing next week? Are there things I should make sure to avoid? Are there things I should make sure to include?

2. Accept feedback without being defensive.

Making oneself vulnerable to ask for feedback will raise anxiety in even the best of performers. I believe that our natural propensity to protect our self-efficacy causes us to try to defend the work we have done. More often than not defending our work is perceived as being defensive or argumentative by the feedback giver. No one wants to voluntarily give feedback to someone who will get angry or argue with them. As a result, we miss the opportunity we have to improve our good work, to be even better.

To get the best feedback (and keep getting it when you ask), your responses should be limited to clarification questions and thanking the giver. So you may want to ask questions like:

  • You’ve said my case is weak. What do you think would make my point stronger?
  • You’ve said some of my presentation may not be well-received. What aspects of the briefing do you think are most controversial?
  • You’ve said that my briefing is too long. What would you recommend cutting out to be more to-the-point?

Responses like “I already did that” or “I don’t think that’s really a problem” or “You didn’t read it close enough to understand the point I was making” will make the feedback-giver become defensive themselves or cause them to shut down in providing more.

To close the conversation, make sure to thank them for their time and that you appreciate that they gave you feedback.

3. Don’t wait until the performance appraisal to ask.

As you sit in front of your supervisor to receive your end-of-year appraisal, there’s very little you can do to change the rating they are giving you. Sure, there’s some administrative steps you can take to contest the rating…but had you had these conversations earlier in the year, there may have been a number of things you could have done to improve the outcome of this review.

Take a moment right now to think about something you are working on and think about who you can ask for feedback on it. Set up a 15 minute meeting in the next day or two to ask the questions that will help improve whatever it is you are working on.


You may be wondering why you need to ask for feedback before your performance appraisal. Aren’t supervisors supposed to help develop you and make sure you perform to your best? Here is my best answer. If they haven’t been giving you feedback, it’s about time you take control over your situation and your next rating.