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Ways to Respond to a Bad Performance Review

written by: Audrey F. Henderson•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/20/2011

In responding to a bad performance review, it's important to determine whether the criticism is justified and if the circumstances are salvageable. How you handle the situation is critical to your future career prospects--whether you remain in your position or decide to pursue new opportunities.

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    You've received a poor job review. Especially in a tough job market, it's a major blow, and perhaps even frightening. In responding to a bad performance review, it's important to make a clear determination of your circumstances. Did the negative evaluation come as a surprise? Are you in imminent danger of losing your job? Was the criticism justified? Determining honest answers to these questions will be a determining factor in how you should respond.

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    Evaluating the Evaluation

    Image 6325 -- bpsusf A poor review that catches you off guard is a sign of poor communication with your supervisor and perhaps indicative of an overall communication problem, according to Robert Half International. There may be shortcomings in your performance of which you are not aware, or the evaluation may reflect personality conflicts or other problems between you and your boss and/or co-workers. Either way, try to maintain a profesional demeanor. Ask your reviewer to outline specifics of where you are falling short as well as constructive suggestions for improvement.

    On the other hand, you may be well aware of particular incidents where you fell short, or you may realize that you are underperforming on a consistent basis. If so, don't go into the evaluation with a defensive attitude. Instead, determine beforehand that you will come away from the evaluation with specific suggestions for how to improve your future performance. Listen carefully to any suggestions your evaluator makes concerning his or her expectations concerning your future performance. In the case of a one-time mistake, it's fine to point out that a single misstep does not reflect your day-to-day performance, Anne Fisher advises.

    Immediately following the evaluation, reassess. Did your supervisor or evaluator provide concrete steps for you to take? Are you being disciplined in any way? What was the overall tone of the meeting? In most instances, a single poor review does not signal the end of your tenure with the company. Instead, it should serve as a wake-up call to make improvements in your performance.

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    To Stay or to Leave?

    After a few days, make an honest assessment of whether you have a future with the company. If you've decided to try to turn things around, develop an action plan in cooperation with your supervisor. Follow up the evaluation in writing with your own suggestions, and request that your supervisor respond with his or her ideas. Perhaps skills training is in order. If there have been conflicts between you and one or more of your colleagues, a meeting to clear the air may ease tensions. In the weeks and months following the evaluation, maintain open lines of communication. Schedule follow-up meetings to make sure you and your supervisor are on the same page, Dave Willmer suggests.

    On the other hand, the tone of the evaluation or your supervisor's actions may lead you to determine that you do not have a viable future with the company. If your review was followed by a demotion, or there are other signs that you are on your way out, begin laying the groundwork to find a new job. Polish up your resume and discreetly reach out to your network. Do not walk out before you find another job if at all possible. Instead, maintain as high a level of performance as possible at work. Interact in a civil manner with your supervisor and coworkers.

    Responding to a bad performance review is not easy. Avoid taking any action that could be viewed as retaliatory, even if you believe you are being singled out by your employer. Instead, maintain careful records of your performance and other evidence to support your claims, in case you leave or are dismissed at a later date. If you are fired, you can use your records to dispute an attempt by your employer to prevent you from collecting unemployment by claiming that you were fired for good cause. If you leave because of employer harassment, your records may help you qualify for unemployment benefits, according to Nolo.

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    • Amy DelPo. When You are Entitled to Unemployment Compensation, in Nolo, retrieved at
    • Anne Fisher. Help! How Do I Respond to a Bad Review?, in Fortune, retrieved at CNN/Money,
    • Dave Willmer. Getting Past a Poor Performance Review, in Certification Magazine, retrieved at
    • Image 6325, by bpsusf, retrieved at
    • Lisa Guerin, J.D. Workplace Retaliation: What Are Your Rights?, in Nolo, retrieved at
    • Robert Half International. Recovering From a Poor Performance Review: Dos and Don'ts, in MSN Careers, retrieved at