Annual performance reviews are nerve wracking experiences.

Eilene Zimmerman, writing for The New York Times, answers some common questions about how to handle the meeting:

Q. How should I prepare for this meeting?

A. Start by making a list of your responsibilities at work and writing your own performance review in each of those areas. Thinking through how you’ve done will prevent you from overreacting to feedback because you will know what to expect.

Annual reviews give you the chance to discuss and formulate goals for the next year. Before the meeting, write down the goals you envision for yourself. As you think about your work over the last year, try to anticipate anything negative that may come up in the review. Prepare for it by looking over old notes and e-mails to remember specific situations and your actions and behavior at the time. Good preparation will reduce anxiety.

Q. Okay, let’s say that at the review, I get some very positive feedback. May I use it as a springboard to ask for something I want?

A. Build on those positive feelings by saying you want to go further in 2012. “Talk about your strengths, how you want to use those to help the organization and where you see growth opportunities for yourself at the company,” says Kimberley Bohr, senior vice president at a leadership development firm in Seattle. If you have something specific in mind, like a role on a particular project, this is the time to bring it up, she says.

If you work for a very small company where the owners make decisions about pay raises, your review could be an appropriate time to ask for one, as long as you are a high performer. Bigger companies, however, have a formal budget process and your boss will probably have to get approval from higher-ups to give you an increase. That can take a few months, so bring up the issue to your boss at least two months before your review.

“There should never be surprises during your performance review, because it’s a summary of all the conversations you’ve had prior to it. And that includes one about compensation.

Q. What if the feedback is unexpectedly negative?

A. Even though your manager should have given you some advance warning of the criticism, take a deep breath before you speak, and don’t be defensive. “You never want your performance review to be confrontational, so start by thanking your manager for the valuable feedback,” says Shawn Kent Hayashi, the founder of the Professional Development Group , a consulting group based in Center Valley, Pa.

It’s important to be clear about the specific behavior your manager is criticizing, so ask for examples to help you better understand.

“Then ask your manager what she would recommend to help you improve in that area,” Ms. Hayashi says. “Would she be willing to guide your development to turn that around over the next 30 to 90 days? Suggest checking in each week about it.”

Q. Performance reviews offer a chance for me to plan my career development — and I don’t want to squander that. What should I talk about?

A. Broadly, the discussion should center on your future at the company and your professional aspirations. Show that you are optimistic and excited about both, suggests Patrick Sweeney, president of a management consulting firm in Princeton, N.J.  “Be as specific as you can about what you want moving forward, such as: ’In three years I’d love to be leading projects. How can I move in that direction this year?’ ” he says.

It’s also important to take some control of your manager’s perception of you.

“So many companies have gone through cutbacks in personnel that those left are doing more than their own jobs,” Mr. Sweeney says. “Your boss knows more is getting done, but here is your chance to let him know exactly what you have been doing and why you can handle other opportunities within the company.”