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4 Ways to Handle a Negative Performance Review

If you are, or have ever been, an employee working in the corporate or private sectors, chances are high that you have had to sit through a performance review. Truthfully, performance reviews aren’t exactly meetings most professional looks forward to. Sitting in the hot seat during a performance review can be awkward, uncomfortable, overly formal, and a bit exhausting. Whether you meet and exemplify every characteristic your employer is looking for, or you have a few areas of improvement you need to tend to, the truth remains: performance reviews are a necessary evil. However, it’s important to know how to handle a negative performance review.

For those who breeze through performance reviews because you are the office MVP, go you! It’s amazing when your outstanding attitude, endless hard work, and punctuality payoff. It means you’re doing something (or many things) right and you deserve to be acknowledged. A stellar performance review may lead you to a promotion, so keep up the good work!

Read more: When (and Why) to Seek Feedback From Your Boss

For those who have had a (or perhaps a few) negative performance review, don’t fret. Most of us have been in the hot seat before (myself included). We know what it’s like to expect to hear praise but actually receive criticism during an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly review. Before you beat yourself up about it, review these GenTwenty tips below.

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4 Ways to Handle a Negative Performance Review:

1. Don’t react; listen.

Upon hearing negative feedback, our first act of defense is to react. We want to defend our behavior, work ethic, etc. because hearing criticism can be really tough. It’s hard to understand how others perceive you as lacking in certain areas, whereas you feel you have been working your tail off at this job.

Rather than entering a mode of defense, use this opportunity to listen to what is being said. Try really hard to hear what your supervisor is saying and digest the criticism at hand. You might find there is a bit of truth to these critiques. Pro-tip: take notes during your performance review. By jotting down notes about the critiques your supervisor has, you can review them at a later time to explore how and why you need to work on these areas of concern.

Another tip? Ask for specific examples of the places you can improve and for specific feedback on how to do so. Sometimes, your boss wants something done a specific way and simply isn’t communicating that effectively. Use your savvy communication skills to connect the dots.

2. Reflect on what was said.

Once your performance review ends, take time to think about what was stated. Hopefully you have notes to take home with you to explore these critiques more carefully.

Perhaps your supervisor feels you lack initiative in the workplace. There could be some truth to that. Do you ask for more work during your down time? Do you help others when the opportunities arise? Are you thinking outside the box to be more creative? You want to stand out at work. By reflecting on what your supervisor said, you can better judge if the critiques s/he had were accurate, and how you can work on these concerns to improve your performance in the future. Try to see the constructiveness to the criticism.

3. Close the loop.

After you have had a day (or several) to reflect on your negative performance review, reach out to your supervisor to schedule a follow-up meeting. It’s really important to close the loop after you have had time to process and digest everything. Show that you understand the points your supervisor made by reviewing the performance critiques s/he had.

If you feel these critiques were actually pretty fair, say that. Don’t be afraid to agree that you can see how your tardiness, moody behavior, sloppy work, or any other relevant critique is unacceptable in the workplace. It really shows maturity and professionalism if you acknowledge your weaknesses with your boss and make a pact to right your wrongs.

On the flip side, if you still don’t feel that your negative performance review was fair, be sure to contest anything that you still don’t agree with. It’s important to defend yourself if you truly believe you were wrongly reviewed. It might even be worth asking to open up the meeting to include more colleagues in the conversation, such as people who you work closely with.

If you stand by your defense, see about having another chance at a review to deeply discuss the critiques your supervisor had that you don’t believe are true.

4. Make a plan to correct your wrongs.

Truthfully, we’re all not the best at everything. The best writers have grammar errors, the most skilled athletes have moments of weakness, and the strongest leaders sometimes make poor decisions.

We are all human and our skills are ever changing. If there are areas of weakness that you need to work on, set goals to strengthen those areas. If you’re consistently tardy to work every day, make a pact to get ready for work an extra half hour earlier in the morning so that you will be punctual. When you find that you lack creativity, try to think outside the box more to be a stronger asset to your team. If your attitude is really posing a problem in the workplace, be more mindful of your communication in the tone and the words you use when speaking to your colleagues.

With a bit of attention and focus, you can correct just about any wrong you make. By working on these smaller goals, by the time your next review rolls around you will have made some very strong progress!

Performance reviews are many things.

For some of us, they are painful, tiresome, and downright uncomfortable. For others, these reviews highlight skills, talents, and achievement.

Whether you’ve never had a performance review in your life, or you’ve had more reviews than you dare to count, the simple truth is that performance reviews are designed to measure our success, flag critiques, and keep employees and employers in check.

Don’t fret if you find yourself sitting in the hot seat during a negative performance review. With these tips in mind, you can make even the worst review a learning experience to do better in the future. You are a strong, gifted, one-of-a-kind twenty-something professional. Get it together so that you rock your performance review next go around!

Have you ever had a negative performance review? How did you use it to your advantage?

About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.