It’s June, aka halfway through the year. For most people employed in a corporate setting, this means mid-year performance reviews are in full spring.

While you’ll be receiving reviews from your peers as well as your managers and superiors, you’ll most likely be asked to write the infamous “self-review.” It is here, in this self-review, that you’ll be asked to give an honest assessment of your own progress, achievements, and shortcomings. This is problematic.

Self-reviews, and any self-assessments, really, are prime areas for all of us to participate in a bit of self-bias. What’s self-bias? It can take many forms, but in broad terms, it’s our inability to properly and accurately assess ourselves, mainly because we only have internal perceptions of our abilities, while good, proper assessment usually requires external perceptions. We can’t always rate our own abilities accurately because our internal perception may be skewed by our emotions, our intentions, and our numerous motivations.

How to Minimize Bias in a Self-Review

So when it comes to writing self-reviews, can self-bias be completely eliminated? No, I don’t believe so, but it can be reduced. Here are a few things I’ve kept in mind when writing self-reviews.

Gather Evidence From External Sources

At my job, we use an instant messenger client called Slack. Next to all your coworkers and dedicated workgroups to whom you can send a message, there’s an area where you can jot down notes, lists, to-dos, save images, and just generally keep track of day-to-day minutiae that doesn’t need to be communicated directly to others. It is here, throughout the work year, that I gather evidence that may be valuable to me during review times.

But what do I mean by “evidence,” exactly? And why do I need “evidence” for mid-year reviews anyway?

By evidence, I speak mainly of external examples of good performance on my part. These may be screenshots of praise from teammates or managers, words of appreciation from clients for a productive meeting or a promptly answered question, promising results or trends for client-based on work I did or heavily contributed to, notes detailing ideas I think of, or records of particularly difficult problems I’ve faced and solutions I’ve found to them … the list goes on.

This evidence is a collection, essentially, of proof that I’ve done some useful things during the span of time between reviews.

Why is Evidence Necessary for Self-Reviews?

First, when asked to evaluate our performance, specifically why we think we performed well at something, most people will respond in one of two fashions: they’ll overrate their performance, or they’ll underrate it.

Some people believe their performance and achievements are far greater than what they might actually be. Others, end up selling themselves short.

Self-bias has a duality to it, you see. Some people believe their performance and achievements are far greater than what they might actually be. Others, no doubt seeking to avoid thinking like that, are a bit too humble when it comes to speaking to their achievements. They end up selling themselves short. I often find myself in this latter group.

Given that it’s collected from external sources, our evidence allows us to check our perceptions of our performance against what others have observed. When review time comes around and we look at the evidence we’ve collected, what does it tell us? Is there a lot of it? Is it few and far between? What was our performance being praised for, exactly? Did we build a good rapport with both coworkers and clients? Basically, when we write reviews based on definitive evidence of our good performance as opposed to our own perceptions of our performance, we can come closer to hitting the ideal middle ground between overrating and underrating.

That brings me to the second reason for gathering evidence: most people, myself included, have fairly poor memories. We may remember large achievements or particularly noteworthy examples of praise, but a lot of progress at work, I find, isn’t contained solely in “big wins.” Good performance builds up cumulatively, especially with general business skills like communication and project management. We improve gradually over time, sometimes dramatically, but we may not remember or even notice this progress if we aren’t actively measuring and recording it.

Collecting evidence for reviews allows us to keep tabs on these smaller examples of good performance. Likewise, collecting evidence from our big wins will allow us to remember them and better elaborate on them in our reviews.

Be Honest About Shortcomings — But Have a Plan

Just as I think we should all be as honest and accurate as possible about our positive performance in our self-reviews, I think we must be equally honest and accurate when it comes to our shortcomings, weaknesses, and areas of improvement.

Initially, acknowledging your weaknesses in a self-review for work may seem like a bad idea. I mean, you’re supposed to put your best foot forward in reviews, right? Yes, that’s right, and often the best employees, best leaders, and best people are those who are aware of their limitations, aware of what they can and cannot do, aware of when they can handle something and when they need help from others.

Acknowledging your weaknesses is a sign self-reflection and transparency — transparency with yourself and others. It conveys a certain sense of humility, a consciousness of yourself that most people — managers and superiors especially — should respect.

That being said, I think when you acknowledge your weak areas in a self-review, you need to do so strategically. You need a way to turn current negatives into future positives. I’ll give you an example.

On my company’s mid-year self-review, each question asked us to provide an answer on a 1 to 5 scale — “1” being not good and “5” being very good. We were also asked to elaborate on our answer in a comment box below.

I’m relatively new to this company as well as the discipline in which I work, so for many of the questions, I found myself putting mostly 4s along with some 3s. A 60/40 split, I’d say.

In the comments section below each question, I leveraged relevant collected evidence to explain why I chose each score. I also acknowledged areas of improvement (indicated by gaps in my evidence or an overall low quantity of evidence in a certain area). After acknowledging a given weak area, however, I made sure to include a paragraph or two explaining what I needed to do to get to the next level — what would be necessary to improve a “3” to a “4” or a “4” to a “5”?

Was more effort needed? Did I need to be more detail-oriented? Did I need to be more open to seeking out and accepting help? I stated what I thought the problem was and what I planned to do about it going forward.

When it comes to self-reviews, you have to have a little bit of negative thrown in with all the positive; no one’s perfect, after all. But that negative doesn’t have to hurt you or your superiors’ perception of you. Don’t just list your weaknesses and leave them there — that’s how you do actual damage in a self-review. Rather, acknowledge your weaknesses, but use them as a platform for detailing future progress.

Take It Slow — And Be Thoughtful

The self-review is not something you should blow through.

It’s the review that’s most important, most directly connected to your career and your potential advancement. It’s your chance to advocate for yourself and your progress, your chance to be honest about what you like and dislike in your workplace. Take it slow, and be reflective.

I believe self-reviews should be written with patience. Rushing through a review, either because you find it boring or because you’re facing a deadline or because you have something else to do, can really hinder and/or hurt you.

You may rush and fail to properly promote yourself, your talents, and your recent performance. You may fail to leverage any evidence you’ve collected from external sources optimally, or you may fail to leverage it at all. You may cover the superficial nature of the progress you’ve made, but fail to reflect more deeply on why/how you made that progress and how you plan to maintain it or enhance it going forward.

Take your time, be reflective and introspective. Be honest, too. Put in a good word for yourself.

Featured Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash
Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash
Avoiding bias in a self-review can be tricky business. While it might be tough to avoid it completely, minimizing it totally possible. Here's how.