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The Negative Performance Review: How to Deal With It

written by: Sidharth Thakur•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/30/2011

What, your boss gave you a negative performance review? You must be feeling angry and might just want to give him a piece of your mind, but wait--that may not be in your best interest. Instead, here’s what you can do…

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    Receiving a negative performance review will make you swing either of the two ways – you’re angry and get want to get back at your appraiser or you feel defeated and dejected and just want to hide. But neither of these two approaches is right to address the issue. If you succumb to your anger and get into a ruckus with your superior, things are bound to take a bad turn as your actions will do nothing more than add more fuel to the fire. The consequences can be as bad as getting thrown out of your job. On the other hand, getting demoralized will affect your work performance and your personal life to such an extent that receiving bad or negative performance reviews may become the norm of your life. Staying quiet and indifferent is also not an option. What you need is to learn how to react to negative performance feedback.

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    Coming to Terms with a Negative Performance Review

    Take Some Breathing Time

    The day you receive the bad performance review is not the day to react to it. The moment you receive such a review you’re bound to get swayed by emotions, but since that’s not going to help your case in any way, it’s better to take a coffee break to calm down the emotional turbulence and recompose yourself. Hold on to your emotions and occupy yourself with your work, so that you don’t think about it until you reach home. Carry a copy of the review back home, but do not begin examining it until you’re completely relaxed. You need to examine it from an objective and neutral perspective, and with too many thoughts and feelings clouding your mind, that won’t be a possibility.

    Negative Performance Feedback 

    Give it a Thorough Read

    Get hold of your performance feedback and read it, making sure that you thoroughly understand whatever is in it. If needed, give it a second read! It will leave you with a better understanding of whether the review is really unwarranted or it’s just that you’re offended and you’re not able to take the criticism. List all the negative as well as positive things, and then examine each of them individually. Try looking at things objectively and from your superior’s point of view, and you might find the justification for all the negative stuff in there. However, if there still are some aspects for which you feel the negative feedback is unjust, note them separately. Also, keep a short list of the positive things said about you in the review; it will come in handy on the discussion table.

    Build your Case

    If, after thoroughly examining the performance feedback, you feel that your superior has been unjust and you want to discuss things, then you’d better build a strong case before you go in for discussions. Put in your reasons why you feel you don’t deserve a negative feedback. Get evidence of your accomplishments and list them to back up your case. Cross-question your arguments and defenses, and be prepared to prove their validity. When you’re all prepared for the discussions, set an appointment with your superior; don’t just barge into his office.

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    At the Discussion Table

    Before you enter your superior’s office, remind yourself that you’re not going in for a debate or argument, and that you’re a professional and you’re there to discuss things in a mature and adult manner. Control your emotions, and avoid raising your voice anytime during the discussion. If your manager has talked about some of your positive aspects in the review, you can use them to start the conversation on a pleasant note. Then come to your point, and without making any allegations discuss the problem areas. Ask questions, if you need clarification. Bring in your reasons and evidence to support your case, but at the same time you must listen to the explanations your superior puts forward. Find common grounds on which you can work together to avoid any such problems in the future. And, finally, request that he revise the performance feedback, if appraisal policies permit him to do so.

    What if the Discussion is Unproductive?

    Despite all your reasoning and requests, if your superior just dismisses your case while you still feel the feedback is unjust, then you might want to consider protesting. Also, if the superior has refused to discuss things despite your repeated requests, you need to escalate the matter one level up. You can either put in your views in the space reserved for employee comments on the appraisal or you can push your written appeal to the next higher authority or the human resource department.

    Knowing how to react to a negative performance feedback will have a major impact on your career growth, especially if you chose to continue working in the same organization. If it is nothing serious and is not likely to hinder your growth, you should let it go and concentrate on your performance. However, if things need to be sorted out, then use these guidelines to reach a peaceful resolution.