THE BLOG
12/19/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Framing the Year-End Conversation at Work

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By Dolores DeGiacomo, Founder/President, Coaching For Life Today

It's that time of year again... appraisals, evaluations, bonuses, raises. You know what you want. You know you've worked hard, but this is a tricky topic. Lean in? Wait for Karma? (please don't). There is a lot of advice out there. Unfortunately, the one thing most of these advice givers forget to tell you is that most of the time, the person on the receiving end of your professional hopes and dreams already has their mind made up.

Does that mean you shouldn't bother stating your case for advancement or recognition? Of course not. You absolutely should. I will always advocate for open perseverance. However, within the conversation, shifts and modifications must be made. Framing the discussion to the person you are speaking to, not just the fact the individual is your boss, but toward more personal characteristics, is essential.

Here are just a few tips:

Know your audience. You want to get some advancement in your career. Your boss has his or her ideas about what is important in that regard. You may disagree over what that is, but starting at a place of agreement (genuine or not) and guiding the conversation toward your desired outcome can nudge your boss and even create a slow momentum. Over the course of a few more conversation you can move your boss closer to your ideas while validating his.

Know your strengths. Over the course of the last year you've succeeded by using your talents. Can you describe what they are in the context of achievements? This can be challenging. Most of what you do to succeed is part action and part strategy (intellect). Breaking it down into something more concrete can feel flat and scripted. However, this in itself is an important skill. FYI, just calling yourself passionate or a hard worker can be the kiss of death. Knowing and describing the real skills, soft skills and technical skills, that you use is paramount.

Be prepared for the conversation. Practice what you want to say. Expect the conversation to go differently. These two points seem to contradict one another. But, in fact, that's the point of practicing. No conversation goes exactly as you want it to but if you have your main points down you can address them, no matter what direction the conversation takes. I'm a strong proponent of role playing conversations. Ask your friends or coworkers to "play" a few different attitudes. You want to learn to navigate them all.

Be accountable. If you haven't achieved all of your objectives over the course of the year know what part you played in that. Sure, people get in the way and throw up obstacles. That's what people do, consciously or unconsciously. If you fall back on the "oh, this didn't happen because of X," and it's not about what you could have done differently, you're going to make a very different impression than the one you intend to. When obstacles show up, be honest. State in clear language, "I didn't navigate that situation successfully." You might be able to negotiate some additional employee development opportunities as well.

Be crystal-clear on what you actually want to achieve in the coming year. This really is a difficult conversation for a lot of people. That said, you don't have to have your entire future mapped out for this conversation to take place. But knowing one or two things with absolute certainty is the key, mainly because you don't have all day and neither does your boss. You want her to walk away with just a little something to chew on that can get the ball rolling. When I work with individuals on creating achievable goals the conversation usually starts like this:

Me: what are you trying to achieve?

Client: Well, I... um... I'm not really sure.

Me: OK, do you want a promotion? More responsibilities? More money?

Client: Oh, um, more money, of course, and I definitely want to do more with my career.

Me: OK.... now we're getting somewhere.

It takes a little prodding and poking, but eventually the goals are defined.

On a final note, depending on the kind of leadership you have and the availability of your boss (is he in the same location, travel a lot, that kind of stuff) make sure to create a follow up before you complete the conversation. In other words, once you've completed the appraisal, discussed your achievements and your goals, set the next meeting. It makes no difference if your boss is the kind of person who cancels at the last minute. This conversation is about sending the message that you're serious and ought to be taken seriously. So have your calendar handy and send a confirmation email prior to your next meeting.

You'll be off to a great start for 2015.

Dolores DeGiacomo, M.A. is a leadership development consultant focusing on emerging leaders and career transitions. Dolores is the creator the of the Power Up! program designed to accelerate success.