How to Handle a Negative Performance Review

by Sharon Elber

Negative Performance Review

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

Almost everyone will have to deal with a negative performance review at some point during their career. While it can be emotionally devastating at first, the fact is that applying the right frame of mind and can-do attitude can turn a negative performance review into a career advancement opportunity.

Listen and Ask for Specifics

Receiving critique on our performance, especially when it is unexpected, can trigger a variety of emotions in the moment. The tendency to react with negative emotions such as frustration, defensiveness, or anger can be strong. Allowing these initial emotional reactions to be expressed is almost always going to make things worse.

The first step to successfully navigating a negative performance review at work is to keep your initial emotional reactions in check. Rather than responding directly to the feedback, turn your priorities to listening and asking for specifics such as examples to make sure you understand the critique. At this point try to avoid being defensive, instead, try to bring a curious mindset so that you can walk away from the meeting with a clear picture of your supervisor's perspective on where you need to improve.

Take notes and ask for a follow up meeting with your supervisor within a week’s time. In most cases, if you communicate that you would like some time to think through the feedback, your supervisor will take this as a sign that you are serious about making changes. And, it has the benefit of giving you time to get some distance from your emotions so that you can better analyze your situation and develop a thoughtful plan to move forward.

Spend Time Digesting the Review

Block some time over the next few days to review your notes from the meeting. Try to see things from your supervisor’s perspective. Understand that their priorities may be different from yours and give yourself room to consider that their point of view may represent the best interests of the company, the department, or the team you are working with.

As you get some distance from the emotions of the initial meeting, you will find that you can get a better perspective on the negative feedback. Try developing a list of the negative aspects of your review.

In most cases you will find that the feedback given will fall into one of two categories: 1. Feedback that you find is accurate, and 2. Feedback that you suspect might be inaccurate.

For example, your supervisor may have been concerned about your error rates when taking the monthly inventory. After thinking about it, you realize that you may have been prioritizing speed over accuracy. While you meant well, you can see that your supervisor’s priority of accuracy over speed is something that you can adjust to moving forward.

A good example of inaccurate feedback might be if your supervisor was not aware of the full picture. For example, maybe your accuracy rate on the last inventory was because you were training a new employee and they made some mistakes along the way. If your supervisor is not aware of that context, they may not have a good picture of your actual capabilities in this area.

Develop a Plan for a Follow Up Meeting

Once you have had a chance to analyze the feedback from a more rational point of view, you can begin to develop a plan for how to deal with the negative performance review. Remember that the best case scenario with any negative feedback from your employer is that you show that you are able to adapt to their needs (or in some cases, clear up some misunderstandings regarding your job responsibilities and expectations).

In fact, bouncing back from a negative performance review at work can even help you to get noticed for future advancement within the company. Rather than getting hung up on defending yourself, try to instead look for opportunities to grow professionally and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

For each of the negative points of feedback that you agree with, develop a list of ways that you can improve. Write them down, and try to include an example, so that you can demonstrate your commitment to improving during your follow up meeting.

If you are in agreement that you need to improve in a certain area, but are not sure how, develop some questions for your supervisor to get some ideas. For example, you may need to take a class or receive additional training. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to improve on areas that came up during a negative performance review. This shows that you are willing to learn, and that is the main thing most employers care about.

If you disagree with the feedback, then spend a little more time to be sure you aren’t missing something. Perhaps you are just being defensive? Maybe you have a blindspot that your supervisor can see but you can’t? Or, perhaps there is a miscommunication about the responsibilities of the job.

If you do not agree with the feedback given, you should plan to go into the follow up meeting with a clear case for why. And, most difficult of all, you need to keep an open mind and be prepared to listen to your supervisor as they may not agree with your assessment.

Take Action After Your Review

While agreeing that you can stand to improve and making a verbal commitment to do so is important, if you don’t follow up with action then you are wasting your time and your employer’s. Make sure to start taking action as soon as you can after your review. If possible, keep track of what you are doing to improve so that you can refer back to it in your next performance review.

Schedule a mid-year follow up with your supervisor if you see that you are making gains as you work to improve on the items in your last review. It is a great chance to show that you are working hard, to get a little more feedback, and to continue to develop professionally. By the time your next annual performance review comes along, you can go into it with confidence that you have addressed any outstanding issues.

Being able to meet expectations is something that we all have to do in our professional lives. However, showing your employer that you can take constructive feedback seriously and turn it into an opportunity for professional growth is a memorable experience about your character. The fact is that it may just give you the visibility you need to stand out against other candidates when opportunities to advance come along.

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