How To Survive A Bad Performance Review

English: shocked expression on a girl's face

Try to listen to what the reviewer is saying while avoiding an emotional response.

Let me start by saying that I am a big advocate of performance reviews.  You may have had some bad experiences with them, but I promise you that they are a very effective management tool in the right hands.

At some point during the course of your career you are likely to get a performance review that you are not happy about.  Depending on how bad you perceive the result to be, you may be inclined to immediately put your two week notice in and look for an employer than can appreciate all of the wonderful things that you have to offer.  That is certainly a solution, but it is probably a little drastic in most cases and may not solve the real problem.  Before you commit to a course of action that could drastically impact your life (and the lives of those that you may be providing for), here are a few things to consider first:

  1. Evaluate what was actually said – If your boss pointed out concerns with your performance then take a moment to focus on what they actually said to you.  In fact I would recommend pondering it for a day or two before you attempt to offer any kind of rebuttal.  Try to put your feelings aside for a moment and think about it from your boss’ perspective.  Do you understand why they pointed out the concerns that they did?  If you don’t then it is reasonable to ask them to further explain or provide examples. 
  2. Try to not to have an emotional reaction – If you are surprised by the comments, then it is much harder to conceal your emotions.  You will naturally want to react to what is being said and plenty of words will start to pop into your mind.  Hold your fire.  There will be an opportunity for you to speak your piece in a logical and organized fashion, but while you are still in an emotional state it is best to bite your lip.
  3. After the meeting, thank them – That’s right I am recommending that you thank your boss for the critique even though you completely disagree with it.  There are a couple of reasons that I think this is a good idea:
  4. You may eventually calm down and realize that there is some merit to what they are telling you.  You have accept that this is a possibility (even if you don’t believe it at the moment).  It is better to come off as professional as opposed to appearing as a raving lunatic.
  5. You want your boss to offer criticism.  You are not perfect.  If your boss has given you a performance review that leads you to believe that you have no faults then they have done you a great disservice.  Constructive criticism helps us to grow and become better.  If you are not getting any type of criticism from your boss, then I would be far more concerned about that.  It can be uncomfortable for them to bring up criticism as well as for you.  Thank them.  At least they had the courage to try to make you better.  Even if you don’t agree with them, you should acknowledge the effort.
  6. Draft your rebuttal/improvement plan – If you think that your boss’ critique was completely wrong, then you certainly have the right to offer a rebuttal.  This is best done several days later when you have had an opportunity to calm down.  Gather your thoughts, put them in a logical order and maybe even run them by an objective third party to make sure that they sound reasonable.  Once you are prepared, secure a time slot on your boss’ calendar.  Present your thoughts but do not go in with the expectation that you are going to change their opinion.  You want your voice heard, but you have to accept that they may have a different opinion than you do.  There are two things that you want to leave this meeting with:
  7. An agreement on what specific actions that you can focus on the short term that will improve your results.
  8. A recurring follow up meeting where you can get an update as to how you are progressing.  You do not want to assume that everything is going well just because your boss has not mentioned any problems.
  9. Have you ever received a bad performance review?  If so, how did you react?

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