Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It

Updated Dec 21, 20223 min
Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It

Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20223 min
Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It

Most of us have had the inkling that we might be getting a less-than-stellar annual performance review. Perhaps our motivation has been lacking, or there were some mistakes along the way. That’s why it can be even more devastating if a bad performance review comes out of the blue.

This article will explain what a bad performance review looks like and how to react to the feedback whether it was anticipated or not. The article gives practical advice on the steps to take before, during, and after the review.  

What Is a Bad Performance Review?

A performance review is an opportunity to check in with your manager.  Typically, you and your manager will review your progress in reaching pre-set goals outlined in your last meeting. Did you meet those goals? If your manager’s opinion is that you did not, that's negative feedback and a bad performance review.

Whether you expected to hear bad news or not, how you handle the feedback is critical. It is a reflection of your emotional intelligence and maturity. Keep an open mind, and remember that constructive criticism can be a positive thing. With your manager's support and guidance, you could see significant improvements in your performance next year.

Here’s how to react to a bad performance review.

Hearing the Initial News

First, stay calm. You might feel shocked, even a little nauseous if a bad review comes out of left field. Those feelings are perfectly natural. Let yourself feel whatever emotions are stirred and know that you do not need to, nor should you, react now. Focus on listening to what your manager is saying so that you can process the information later.

If you are blindsided, the best thing to do is take some deep breaths and ask for some time to review the information. Ask for a follow-up meeting after you have had time to think about your manager’s feedback. Ask your manager for written feedback with specific examples so that you can review what your manager is saying.

Preparing for a Follow-up Meeting

As you review the feedback in preparation for a follow-up meeting, put yourself in your manager’s shoes. This might help you to understand why they have given you poor feedback. Did you fail to accomplish what you were hired to do? If so, there are ramifications for the company and for your manager, and they are right to bring it to your attention. Could there be a miscommunication or a misunderstanding? As part of your review, you will have submitted a self-assessment describing how you rate your own performance. How did your manager react to your self-assessment? Did they consider your self-assessment fair?

If there are glaring discrepancies between your understanding of your performance and that of your manager's, that's a conversation to be had. You may both need to get on the same page as far as your role and expectations are concerned. 

As you digest the feedback from your manager, you should prepare an appropriate written response and action plan.

In your response, note what you consider to be the underlying problems and suggest actions that you and your manager can take to remedy them. For example, if there has been a misunderstanding as to your role and expected achievements, suggest that you and your manager review the expectations and goals of your position and come up with an improvement plan. Request ongoing feedback or quarterly meetings to confirm your role and goals going forward.

Don’t list more than two or three problems in your written response, and only suggest one or two actionable remedies for each. Keep the discussion narrow and focused because that will lead to more targeted results, and your manager will be more likely to buy into your proposal.

It would be helpful to seek the advice of a mentor or career counselor to prepare your response to a bad performance review. A third party can give you unbiased advice and a new perspective on the last year.

The measure of who you are professionally is not just about how you behave when things are going well, but how you choose to respond and react when things are not. Demonstrate emotional intelligence and a sensible approach to this stressful and challenging situation.

For more on preparing for performance reviews, read, "How to Prepare for a Performance Review"

Responding to the Feedback

When you have had time to process your manager’s performance appraisal feedback, you might have to admit that their summation is fair. In that case, in your meeting or follow-up meeting, lay out a written proposal for change. Your written plan of action should include two or three areas where you need to improve your employee performance and two or three suggestions as to how you can do that.

For example, your manager may have told you that your client approval ratings are below the set goal. First, you should review the set goal and confirm that it is achievable. Second, you might request a mentoring relationship with a colleague who can help you with your client interaction.

Set new measurable goals. For example, in 60 days, I will have accomplished A, B, or C. Only set one or two attainable goals, however. That way, you can focus on them and not dilute your efforts in any area.

If you sense that you are not right for the role you are expected to fill, explore options with your manager. For example, suggest that you move to a different role or modify your current position.

What to Do if You Think the Feedback Is Unwarranted

If you think that your manager’s feedback is unwarranted and unfair, consider consulting with an independent career counselor or a mentor. It could be that the reasons for your negative performance review are out of your control. Your manager might be using the review as a way to put you on probation and fire you later. 

You could consult with human resources, but they probably won’t be much help if you have a bad boss and receive bad feedback. Your boss has probably been acting that way in the past, and HR has done nothing to stop it. More importantly, don't prolong that type of employer-employee relationship, but consider finding a new job.

For more on the decision to quit, read "Should I Quit My Job"

If you and your manager do not see eye to eye, you could ask for a third party to mediate. If you feel that you are a subject of discrimination, keep a record of all that occurs (you should do this whatever the situation) and consult a labor attorney to see if you might have a case. However, bear in mind that other employers may be wary of you if you sue a previous employer.

It might be best to leave your job under the best circumstances possible, which means finding a new job as soon as you can. An independent career coach can help you sort through the events, give career advice, and help you decide whether you should look for a new job before you are let go.

For guidance in job search, read "The Master Guide on Job Searching"

Final Thoughts

It’s never pleasant to receive disappointing feedback during your performance evaluation, but it can be a positive thing. First, constructive criticism is an opportunity to improve your performance, hopefully, with your manager’s help. If achievable goals are set, and you have the right tools and support, your next performance review could be much different.

Also, your poor performance review might be a warning sign that you are not a good fit for your role, and the review is a catalyst to change. A move to a different role or a modification could resolve the problems and benefit both you and your company.  

If your performance review is an effort to malign you, take this as an indicator that you should start on a path to real career development and begin a job search. Doing so will lead you to a much healthier and more constructive environment.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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