How To Bounce Back From A Negative Performance Review

Deal with your emotions first, then move on to the reasons

Business woman on steps looking worried
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By Vicki Salemi

If you're on the heels of a year-end performance review or getting ready for a new goal-setting meeting, welcome to the club. If your review hasn't exactly been stellar, the first reaction may be denial, anxiety or even outrage. The good thing is the process of sitting down with your boss creates an opportunity for honest feedback and consequently, a new game plan.

According to experts, a negative review isn't the be all and end all. Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, recommends looking at the big picture. "A review is a real opportunity to see how somebody important in your career, your supervisor, views you," he says. 

The first step for an employee approaching the review is to be a good listener. Considering your boss may not be the best communicator, he or she may be blunt. "Reviews aren't done as skillfully as they might otherwise be," Handal says. "A boss may say, 'Peter, you did a crummy job on this.'" Listen carefully to what's being said.

The immediate reaction may be to get really defensive and then block yourself off to the rest of the conversation. Craig Chappelow, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, says: "Emotions first, reasoning second. ... Your boss doesn't give you negative feedback to be mean or hurtful – it's their job. Do yours."

The only reason they're doing this is because they're interested in your success. "This conversation is for the purpose of helping you become more successful," Handal says. After all, the supervisor looks more successful when you're successful – you're both in this together. It's normal to feel hurt or angry. Chappelow recommends managing your emotions privately with a trusted individual. Whether you lean on a mentor or friend afterward, Chappelow suggests taking time to "cycle through the emotions this kind of bad news can bring." Monitor your reactions and try to identify what you're feeling. "It can be a very telling exercise and most people cannot move on to solving the problem if they don't take the time to reflect on their reactions and go ahead and have the emotional reaction," he says.

During the performance review itself, it's OK to acknowledge your emotions without letting them surpass your ability to be an effective listener. As the conversation keeps flowing, take copious notes especially if you're emotionally caught up in the moment – you don't want to miss any nuggets of insight.

That said, if your boss isn't providing specific examples, ask for some. Instead of giving your opinion or becoming defensive, Handal suggests saying, "Well, gee, can you give me an example of where I can improve or what do you think would be an example of something I have done well?" This engages your boss a little more into the discussion. He or she could be hesitant or maybe they haven't done this before. Your asking these kinds of questions will draw him or her out.

Instead of viewing this as a stressful situation, look at it as an opportunity to create a game plan to move forward. "Take a deep breath, be calm and think there must be some value to this conversation," Handal says. Figure out how to address issues that were raised. "This is a win-win – she's really interested in my success and then I can show my supervisor this is the way I'm going to address these things."

Chappelow adds: "It is a clich̩ to say that feedback is a gift Рand it often doesn't feel like it in the moment Рbut it really is critical. We try to help the individual understand the importance of any feedback as a navigation point."

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