Happy New Year! It’s time for resolutions, predictions for 2013, and, for many firm attorneys, an annual review. I find the entire concept of a review stressful, and have been known to stay awake at night imagining terrible things people could say during a review. Over the years, however, I have assembled some coping tools which I humbly offer for your consideration.

Accept that your review will run late

Its attorneys who complete review forms, and (as a group) attorneys are terrible when asked to complete administrative forms unaccompanied by a court-given deadline. My first year in practice, an email went out to attorneys asking them to complete review forms by a certain date. Silly me; I assumed that my actual review would occur around that time. When the appointed day rolled around I started to worry about the review process, only to realize that a few more reminder emails needed to be sent before the review could occur. My process prolonged the stress. If you can wrap your mind around this reality in advance you can avoid the anxiety of expecting your review on any particular date. Indeed, even when the actual review meeting is set, a TRO, rescheduled client meeting, or an important lunch can push back the date. Take a deep breath and let go of scheduling expectations.

Use the review to gather information

Instead of imagining a review as a horrifying meeting at which people will proclaim your flaws and vote you off the island, I try to reframe the event in a positive way. The review is a great time to have people focus on you and your career. You can find the answers to all your burning questions: What do I need to focus on this next year? Where can I improve? What skills do I still need to hone? Sure, you have ideas about the answers as well, and the conversation need not be a one-way street. Feel free to offer your own thoughts and ask for feedback on your development plan. The bottom line? Think of the review as an opportunity to ask questions and seek career advice without seeming like an egotistical maniac.

Keep feedback in perspective

Research has shown that humans (and even rats!) over emphasize bad feedback. For this reason, you can leave your review hearing with the negative feedback ringing in your ear while discounting all the wonderful things people said about you. The New York Times recently summarized this research, noting that the trait may have an evolutionary purpose: “Those who are ‘more attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased the probability of passing along their genes.’” Indeed, some research has shown that employees need to hear four positive comments to outweigh one criticism. While this may be true, I try to shake off this evolutionary baggage in the office setting. In the privacy of your own office or home, take a moment to sort through the feedback. The negatives likely did not outweigh the positives, even though the negative comments may be echoing through your head.

Talking about oneself can be difficult—good or bad—because it’s as personal as life gets. Since most employers have adopted the review as an annual rite, however, we can try to make the best of it, use the opportunity to gather information, and try not to get stressed out. How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?

(image: Businesswomen sitting at office desk from Shutterstock)

1 Comment

  1. I used to work at a law firm where this kind of thing happened.

    Reading this just reminds me how stupid firm life can be. You couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to go back.

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