Performance Review Anxiety? Try The Woolly Jumper Test!

Got performance review anxiety? Try the woolly jumper test and feel it boost your confidence, even if you get 'constructive criticism'.

It's that time of year - performance reviews and appraisals are upon us. And my research shows that 77% of people dread them. So in this episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, I'm taking you on a tour of what our research says about why this is, plus sharing practical strategies you can use to set yourself free from performance review anxiety, even if your appraisal is in the next couple of days.

Here's What We'll Cover About The Woolly Jumper Test 

  • What the research says about performance reviews and why so many of us worry about them
  • How you're not alone in this - your boss might be dreading it, too!
  • The role of Imposter Syndrome in performance reviews, and how appraisals risk making it worse
  • Why constructive criticism and the feedback sandwich need to go straight in the bin
  • The two ways people take feedback - and one of them might surprise you
  • The two types of fear, and which one is secretly running your performance review anxiety
  • Three hot tips for recipients and performance review-givers
  • And how the woolly jumper test could become your new BFF, whenever you're given feedback

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Please forgive typos - these are AI-generated.

Welcome back to the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, and today we are talking about performance review anxiety, if that's something you've ever experienced. And as I'm recording this, we're in full blown end of year annual review season. I want you to try the Woolly Jumper test and feel it boost your confidence. Even if you get constructive criticism. Performance reviews and appraisals are upon us, and my research shows that 77% of people dread them.

So in this episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, I'm taking you on a tour of what the research says about why this is, plus sharing practical strategies you can use to set yourself free from performance review anxiety, even if your appraisal is in the next couple of days. And as a PS, I'm also sharing top tips for line managers if you're the one running the annual reviews, because leaders get performance review anxiety, too.

So let's start with what the research says about performance reviews and why so many of us worry about them. So for 72% of recipients on the research I've been carrying out on an ongoing basis over the last five years, performance reviews feedback, constructive criticism trigger stress and worry.

That figure goes up to nearly 100% for those who are running Imposter Syndrome, which is about two thirds of people at the moment. And this is happening even if the feedback is positive. So why is that? Well, here's what you need to know about the role of Imposter Syndrome myths, performance reviews, and how appraisals make it even worse. If you've hung out with me for a while or if you've been reading Ditching Imposter Syndrome, you'll know, I talk about Imposter Syndrome as being the gap between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be to do or achieve something.

And what happens in our performance review is that gap is shoved in our face. Yeah, if we're fortunate and we've had a great year, we'll see that we're doing what's expected or hopefully even exceeding expectations. But if we're scared that we're not, the anxiety that can build up ready for that? Feedback can be huge. But if you've hung out with me for a while, you will also know I have a second definition of Impostor Syndrome the secret fear of others judging us the way we judge ourselves.

So someone running Imposter Syndrome is likely to be beating themselves up a lot. They will have trained the philtres in the brain reticular activating system system to spot examples of things not going well and then making a mistake and messing up. So when it comes to performance reviews, that means we get anxious and nervous, worrying that our line manager is going to be putting that down in black and white on paper. The more we're secretly criticising ourselves inside, the higher our fear of external criticism becomes. And performance reviews can become an enormous trigger for Imposter Syndrome that was previously dormant or where our bridge of coping strategies was working, meaning it becomes out of control.

This is particularly the case if the performance review is followed by the Christmas break, meaning we get a couple of weeks to sit at home and fester over it. There's another thing that's happening here, though. Somebody who's been running Impostor Syndrome is likely to be running what's called hypervigilance. We've got stuck in the fight flight freeze response. There's a really useful research study I published in April 2022 looking at the link between Imposter Syndrome and burnout, and you really want to have a read of that if this one is applying to you.

There's a link to that in the show notes. Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp FM 00:25 what happens with hypervigilance, where that fightflightfreeze distress response gets hardwired on, is we're constantly on the lookout for threats and we play small and we self sabotage in order to subconsciously protect ourselves from them. So where this comes into play in performance reviews, even if a line manager is giving somebody really positive feedback, the person Imposter Syndrome iceberg hypervigilance means they will spot every single tone of voice, every single little bit of phrasing. That might mean they could interpret that feedback as a threat and a criticism. We're going to talk about how you can handle this, OK?

In a minute. But first, I want you to know you're not actually alone in this. If you are dreading your performance review, your boss might be dreading it too. We found in our research that over 90% of line managers have never had training in how to deliver feedback or run performance reviews outside of reading company policies. And yet it's a skill.

It's a skill you need to practise, it's a skill you need to hone. So what they're doing is they're passing on what they experienced, they are doing what they were taught to do. And if that's you, and you're a line manager and you're stressed out about running performance reviews, I've got a whole episode for you over at my Solitude Leaders podcast. The link for that is in the show notes for this episode over imposter Syndrome Bootcamp FM 00:25 so the fact is, your boss might be dreading it too. And if they're ditching Imposter Syndrome themselves and they've got that internal dialogue going, beating themselves up and they're secretly fear, afraid that others will judge them the way they're judging themselves, then giving that feedback to somebody else can actually be quite difficult for them, almost traumatising.

So what happens when people haven't had training in the best ways to deliver feedback is they go with constructive criticism and the Feedback sandwich. Now, these two things need to go straight in the bin. The feedback Sandwich is where you say something positive and you say something negative, and then you say something positive and expect the person on the receiving end to be okay. It's outdated. It's proven that somebody who's doubting themselves, maybe they're lacking in confidence.

Or especially if they're running Imposter Syndrome, they don't hear the bread either side of the poo sandwich being polite there. Yeah, they will cling to the butt. And what the feedback sandwich has also done is it's taught us an unconscious level to listen and wait for the butt. Constructive criticism is also something I think my research shows we should throw away. When you criticise somebody, the intention is to tell them what they're doing wrong and it is not done in a helpful way.

As soon as somebody running hypervigilance, here's the word criticism. Or I need to give you some feedback, or could we just have a talk? It fires off those internal alarm bells that trigger the fight flight freeze response that mean they're extremely unlikely to hear anything positive that's said, and they're likely to hear and amplify the negative stuff that's said. So we found in our research studies that even positive feedback is a problem for someone running Imposter Syndrome because 71% of people waiting for the butt. So while the line manager is giving great feedback, thinking that they're praising and doing a fantastic job, the person with Imposter Syndrome is actually running through options in their heads for what the butt is going to be.

So instead of accepting the praise, they're actually consciously thinking about everything they do wrong. The organise doesn't make it through the Brain's Reticular activating system philtres. The only stuff that makes it through the philtres is that constructive criticism or the butt? In the middle of the feedback sandwich, we found a 46% of people, they'll even say that, but out loud. And for 51% of people, they take constructive criticism really personally and put a lot of energy into worrying about it after the event.

So a line manager might make a tiny comment that they think is constructive criticism. But for the person ditching Imposter Syndrome, that becomes all they remember from the appraisal. And there are two ways of taking feedback. One of them might surprise you. Okay, we've got two levels here, evaluation versus judging.

So on the show notes page, go and cheque out the Imposter Syndrome Iceberg, which talks about the difference between Imposter Syndrome and lack of confidence. In essence, confidence is about what we can and can't do, our skills, our capabilities. Impostor Syndrome is about who we think we are. Now, we all need feedback, whether it comes from inside or from the outside world, to be able to grow, to be able to improve, to be able to fulfil our potential. And what happens when someone's running Imposter Syndrome is instead of taking behavioural level, skills level, action level feedback and using it to evaluate performance, because we've hardwired our brains and our bodies to judge ourselves, we take that skills level feedback and make it about who we are inside.

For example, somebody might get feedback about their presentation skills. And instead of just thinking, okay, so I could do these things differently, that's fine. I can tick that box, not a problem. If they're running Imposter Syndrome, what they do is take that inside and say, therefore I'm a rubbish presenter. We take it personally, we make it about who we are, which is so much harder to change than what we do.

But what is really leading to performance review anxiety is the two types of fear. I'm going to be doing a whole episode on this very soon, so if you want to know about the two types of fear in more depth than we're going to COVID here, make sure you subscribe to the Ditching Imposter Syndrome and podcast wherever you love to get your podcast. It's absolutely free every Friday. And keep an eye out for the two Types of Fear episode and which one is trashing your confidence. In essence, though, there are two types of fear.

I call them legitimate fear, which is, I'm really doing something that's physically dangerous and putting myself at risk. You really want your brain to tell you about that and your body. Then we have what I call mind story fear. This is the fear where we're doing the what if ing, the catastrophizing, the worrying mental rehearsal for a future we don't really want. And this is what is causing performance review anxiety, is we're going through scenarios in our head of what our line manager might or might not say based on the fears we're running inside from judging ourselves.

So make sure you catch that episode. It'll be out in the next few weeks. So I've got three hot tips for recipients and performance review givers. I run deepdive training on this for organisations. I run consulting in organisation to help you turn your performance review system all year round into something that actually empowers and inspires, rather than generates fear and anxiety.

If you're a line manager, go and check it out.

Take out the bit about line managers. So if you're a line manager, go and cheque out the podcast episode I mentioned over at my Soultuitive® Leaders podcast, the link is above. And for you, if you're about to go through your performance review as an employee, three top tips and then we'll do the woolly jumper test. Tip number one, it is not about who you are. Okay?

When we're running Imposter Syndrome, as I just said, we've hardwired our brain to take things personally, to take evaluative feedback on our performance and behaviour, to be about who we are as a person. The feedback you're getting is not about who you are, it's about what you do. And that's much easier to change. The second top tip, beautiful Native American saying, all criticism is born of someone else's pain. All criticism is born of someone else's pain.

If your line manager is criticising you, and sometimes that stress response if they're running Imposter Syndrome, because it triggers the fight flight freeze, it can trigger the fight in them. So sometimes they'll manage the performance review really badly without intending to. If they're criticising you, it's giving you direct insights into how they talk to themselves and it's their inner critic you're listening to. That doesn't make that acceptable. But it's really important to understand this might not be about you.

And the third tip is to manage your own internal state. You can use a technique I want to share with you. It's my gift to you. You can find it at Clare forward slash pause. And it's a breathing technique you can use to get grounded, to calm anxiety and to press pause on that MindsTORY fear what if in catastrophising thoughts.

So go and do that whenever you catch yourself worrying about your appraisal before the appraisal, and you can even do it during your appraisal to help you get out of the Fightflight Freeze response and be able to experience it in a more neutral way so it has a chance of actually being positive. And then the main thing I wanted to teach you today, and it's super simple, is to use the woolly jumper test for your appraisal feedback. So, when I first started uni, when I studied engineering and German up in Sheffield, which is towards the north of England, and my family came from right down south, so my grandmother, my granny, was convinced that because I was vegetarian, I must be cold. So every autumn term, without fail, she would send me a woolly jumper. And her idea was that I would wear it all winter to keep me warm, despite the fact I didn't eat meat.

The problem was her knitting skills still thought I was about six years old. And those jumpers, it didn't matter how hard I tried, one year I wouldn't be able to get my head through the neck, the next year I wouldn't be able to get my arms through the sleeves. And eventually, I had to accept it wasn't my job to fit her jumpers. And I gave them donated them to a charity where they could be more use. I use this now with my clients and in things like my Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp accelerated Coaching Programme and in the book Ditching Imposter Syndrome to share how we can apply this for feedback.

Just because your boss gives you feedback, it doesn't mean it's true. So if there's feedback that you just think, oh, no, try it on the site. Do the woolly jumper test. Does this feedback fit? And be really honest with yourself, not beating yourself up, not in denial.

Does this feedback fit or is it like one of Claire's granny's jumpers and frankly, it doesn't belong to you. If it fits, are you going to do anything about it? Yeah. Commit to taking that action. No, let it go.

So the woolly jumper test can be your new best friend forever when it comes to handling feedback from your boss during your performance review. Does this really fit? Does this feedback really belong to me? Or do I need to just let it go? And remember, your performance review is also a time for you to ask your boss for the support you need.

If there's something you need them to be doing or saying differently, it's okay to tell them. It's also the time of year where organisation collect requests for training, coaching, performance improvement work. So if you are keen, super keen, to Ditch Imposter Syndrome in the next year, how about asking your boss to fund you a place on Ditching Imposter Syndrome Boot Camp? One of the things that can really help you with that is to have something to wave under their nose. So you've also got my free research backed scorecard that can give you your Imposter Syndrome score and a personalised action plan.

So you might want to take that with you into your performance review and explain to your boss what would change about your performance, your emotional, mental, physical well being and your ability to share your ideas that you have the impact you deserve if you get support to clear out Imposter Syndrome. So the bootcamp, you can find out about forward Ditching Imposter Syndrome bootcamp and you can take my scorecard with a link over at the Show Notes. Or scroll down. If you're listening to this in a podcast app, you'll find the link to the scorecard below. The show notes are imposter.

Syndrome bootcamp. FM 25. And remember, if you're beating yourself up and worrying about your performance review, chances are it's Imposter Syndrome. Iceberg. Yeah, go and get yourself a copy of Ditching Imposter Syndrome to make sure this doesn't happen next year.

Clear it out once and for all. And have a look in the book for the section on Micro wings. This is how to rewire your brain over the coming months so that those reticular activating system philtres spot what you're doing really well. Not just what you're doing badly, so that when you get your performance review, you have got a list as long as your arm of what you've achieved instead of worrying about being told what maybe hasn't gone quite so well. I'll be doing an episode on Microwins very soon as well.

So make sure you subscribe to the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast wherever you love to get your podcasts. And if if you found this useful, please leave us a lovely review over at itunes. Spotify Stitch at Amazon, wherever you've been listening, because this really helps other people to find this work too. I hope you have an amazing performance review and you found today's episode helpful.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

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