Q. I've been working closely -- and quite well -- with a few colleagues on a project for a year. But when I came back from maternity leave, they began making snide remarks to me about "leaving early." I do leave at 5 p.m. now, but I don't feel my work has suffered. How can I make sure their remarks won't hurt me in my upcoming review?
A: A performance review is like any other major workplace negotiation: You must enter into it on strong footing to get what you want, says Dr. Kolb. In this particular case, that means doing all you possibly can to counter this notion that by leaving at 5 p.m., you're shirking your responsibilities. "If those comments are in the air when you have your review, it can shape how your boss sees you."
To put an end to those nasty remarks, Dr. Kolb suggests trying out different comebacks until you find one that stops the comments. You could, for instance, respond with a tactic Dr. Kolb calls "naming the behavior" -- addressing what the other party is doing, without being antagonistic. "Sounds like maybe you'd like to leave at the same time," you could say.
You could also use what Dr. Kolb calls a "correcting" turn, replacing their negative account of your behavior with a more flattering interpretation ("I come in a half hour earlier than you every day. You and I both know that I've been doing my share of the work"). Finally, you could try what Dr. Kolb dubs a "diverting" turn, shifting the focus away from you to the real problem: "Tell me, is there some way specifically that I'm slacking off?"
Before you even walk in the door for your review, you should begin lobbying for your agenda (a process Dr. Kolb calls "seeding the meeting"). "You put yourself in a better negotiating position by readying the other person to hear what you have to say," Dr. Kolb says. Draft a memo to your boss in which you detail the status of all your projects and highlight your contributions. This is another time when it's helpful to have an ally put in a good word for you. "Even a casual comment in passing, like 'Elizabeth has been doing a really great job since she came back,' can have a positive impact if it comes from a person that your boss respects," says Dr. Kolb.