While your performance over the past year may have already locked in your near-term pay and position, how you react to your boss's feedback can help determine your compensation and career path.
"When you get an evaluation, you are getting a score, but then, in a sense there's a second score involved, which is how you handle that feedback," said Douglas Stone, co-author of "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well" with Sheila Heen. "Engaging well with feedback is one of the most important skills an employee can have."
First, taking feedback well means getting an opportunity to improve work performance effectively. Second, your acceptance of that feedback improves your likability on the job — it indicates you're a team player and easy to work with. All of that can translate to improving your company standing and compensation, he said.
"For the executives [determining pay], performance reviews are a way of understanding who are the top and bottom talents of the company, who is doing really well and can possibly be promoted and figuring out compensation distribution," said Rajeev Behera, CEO of the performance management platform Reflektive.
Competition for raises is high. U.S. companies are expected to hold pay increases to an average 3 percent for 2017, and reserve the biggest bump of as much as 4.6 percent for top performers, according to consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.
How do you ensure you're part of that top tier? Listen to your boss.
"Don't get defensive when you first hear the feedback. That ends up going against you," Behera said. "You want to portray that you are receptive and open to the feedback. You want to understand thoroughly what they're saying."
That may be easier said than done.
"As the emotional beings that we are, it's almost impossible to take in and understand coaching when it's accompanied by an evaluation," Stone said. "Some good advice often goes unheard and unheeded."
How do you hone your skill at receiving feedback? Like anything else, you need practice. Even before your annual review, you probably have a good idea of what your boss might say. After all, you were there, too. Review your own year and contemplate what criticisms you might get.
"You can help yourself by preparing, by imagining the worst you might hear and thinking through how you'd feel and what you'd say," Stone said.
Another way to improve your listening skills is to speak up. Do this both at the time of your review and in a follow-up meeting that you schedule for the week or two right after your review, as well as throughout the year.
"Ask a lot of questions," said Behera. "When your manager gives you broad feedback, ask for specific examples. That's the only way you can improve."
For example, if your superiors think you need to adjust your attitude, find out what they mean by that and ask for specific examples. Was there a joke that you made one time that put people off? Have there been instances when you've said no to additional work that made you seem like you were not a team player? Were there particular meetings or company social events that you missed?
On top of being better able to fix what they think you're doing wrong, understanding their reasoning may give you the opportunity to explain your side and work out a way to improve the situation for everyone.
Even if your review was positive overall, there is one question in particular Behera recommended asking: "What else can I do?"
Especially if you have a be-your-buddy kind of boss, you might not be getting the constructive feedback you need in order to do better. And you want to do better every year.
"If you don't improve every year, you're not going to stay on par with everyone else who is trying to," Behera said. "That' really the only way to stay ahead."
Also, given your boss's feedback, you'll have a better idea of whether you even want to stay where you are. Perhaps some of the criticism you've gotten — about your bad attitude, as in the example above — is more about you and how you fit in with your colleagues and company rather than your performance or anything you can reasonably fix.
"If you find you're not a culture fit with your company, you're not going to be very effective there, and it's not going to work very well for you," said Behera. "At that point, what's best for your career long term is to go to a company that matches how you work."