Negative Performance Review: Turning One Around

At some point in your career, you’ll receive a negative performance review. It happens. Depending on how rough the review was, you may even question whether it’s just time to quit your current position. Before you make any rash decisions, though, heed our advice on how to handle a negative performance review.

Keep in mind that (sometimes) a negative review can have a positive effect on your career, or even your current job. It may be the thing that catapults you onto another professional level, even if only by driving you to polish your skills, look for a new position, or finally change something about your work processes. Keep a positive attitude!

Do: Listen Without Interrupting

Giving a negative review is about as much fun as receiving one. Keep in mind that your boss is likely not enjoying the review, either, and is doing this only because there are things that need to be said.

Just listen. If you’d like to take notes, let your boss know you want to write your thoughts down while they’re providing feedback so the conversation doesn’t get derailed. These aren’t meeting notes; this is a way for you to write down your reactions to their feedback without forking the conversation and careening it off a cliff.

It can be painful to hear you’re not doing as well as you imagine. Listening can sometimes be the hardest part. But you should, out of respect for your manager, and as a means to move forward in a positive direction with a clear idea about your response. Reacting emotionally almost never has the desired effect.

Don’t: Get Defensive

Is your manager bringing up a team project from months ago where someone was complaining you weren’t pulling your weight? As a wise man once said: That’s just, like, their opinion, man.

Whatever the feedback, don’t become defensive. In the scenario above, it’s better to state why that’s a misconception, rather than laying out why the particular co-worker is terrible. Maybe you were pulled in other directions, and your teammates weren’t aware of the overall scope of your work.

Whatever the feedback, accept it as constructive criticism, and examine it objectively.

Keep in mind that ‘defensive’ also carries over to body language. If you’re sitting with your arms crossed, rolling your eyes and scoffing, your boss won’t want to listen to whatever your responses may be. You’ve told them, without saying a word, that you don’t care what they’re saying because you think they’re wrong anyway.

Do: Be Fair, But Make Your Case

Negative performance reviews are typically framed as a one-sided discussion. Most often it’s because the entire situation is difficult for your boss, too, so they just want to get it over with.

This is why we encourage you to listen and absorb the feedback with an objective mindset. Once your boss says what they need to say, it’s your turn. This is the time for you to shine, believe it or not.

If there’s fair criticism, express your understanding of that scenario, and let your manager know how you will react in the future to a similar scenario. This tells them you won’t repeat your error, and will try harder to be a better cultural fit for the company.

Should your manager bring up months-old issues, let them know you’d much rather hear about issues when they occur. This opens a channel for communication with your manager they may not have felt was there before. If they know they can bring up smaller issues with you on a regular basis, it helps everyone.

Don’t: Leave the Room Without a Plan

This is another instance where you can be proactive! HR loves documentation and doing things like placing people on performance plans, which are sometimes little more than a final warning before termination.

But you’re smart. You’ve listened, taken notes, provided your own feedback to your manager in a constructive way… and now it’s time to introduce a plan of action. If a performance plan is waiting for you, offering up your own non-binding plan can help you and your manager avoid the uncomfortable scenario of following a pre-set, badly fitting template for your future performance. Neither of you want a performance plan, so be the one who moves beyond it!

Offering up solutions to the issues your manager raised (however ridiculous you think they are) lets them know you’re willing to move forward positively rather than stew in angst. Performance plan or not, make sure you and your manager leave the room feeling good about what just transpired.

Do: Give Yourself Time to Process Your Review

Here’s an unfortunate truth: Even if you follow our advice, there’s a good chance you will leave the meeting room with some trepidation about your job, management, or the company. Maybe you feel as though your boss is trying to push you out.

Give it time to sink in.

Think critically about how the review went, what cues you may have missed, and what the tone was in closing. Did your manager seem reluctant to your ideas and feedback? Did they have far more negatives than positives in reviewing your performance? It might be time to consider moving on.

Were you too harsh in your feedback? Was there anything you could really improve upon? Maybe you just need to lock-in and focus.

Without ruminating too heavily or looking for warning signs that may not be there, give yourself a few days to consider how you feel after the review. Maybe you’re emboldened to do a better job; maybe it changed how you see everything at the company. There’s no right or wrong answer. Your career is yours alone, and you have to be happy with its direction.