Negative Performance Review? 7 Tips for Moving Forward

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Performance reviews aren’t exactly fun, but they’re even worse when you get a negative review — especially if you didn’t see it coming.

And if you have a manager that you enjoy working with, you might even feel embarrassed or betrayed.

Undoubtedly, your first negative performance review can be tough to bounce back from. But if you can take a step back and remove the emotion from your reaction, you can use the feedback from your negative performance review in positive ways.

Rather than get defensive, use this list of tips to create an intentional and professional response.

1. First Things First, You Need Space

Calm woman
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Even if you disagree with your performance review, taking time to contemplate the feedback you were given is the best course of action.

You risk speaking in anger if you try to respond without ample time to cool off. You’ll likely get defensive, and an unprofessional response won’t support your case.

Not to mention, if you request time to digest your feedback, you might see how the manager came to their conclusions.

You can always say something along the lines of, “I’d like some time to consider this and look this over. Can we schedule a follow-up next week to discuss the next steps?”

You’re neither agreeing or arguing with the feedback. You’re simply asking for time to carefully consider it before you meet with your supervisor again.

2. Don’t Sweep It Under the Rug

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It might be tempting to just let your negative feedback go. After all, having conversations with your supervisor as they analyze your work performance can be a little awkward.

But if you aren’t actively participating in the solution, your manager can view that as a lack of engagement. And the long-term impact on your career could be detrimental.

Whether you feel it’s deserved or not, your professional reputation is on the line. You need to be an active participant in the conversation.

Plus, if you assume that you understand the expectations — but you and your leader still need to get on the same page — you may start working toward an unnecessary change.

You might end up not addressing the issue, potentially causing more frustration for your leader.

3. Analyze the Feedback

Human resources, interview and resume with a woman manager and candidate meeting at work. – Yuri A /

Try to put yourself in your leader’s position. Is any of the feedback valid? Or, even if it’s not, is there information they don’t have that might change their perception?

If you need more clarification, ask for feedback from other colleagues or leaders within the organization. But tread carefully; you don’t want to overstep your bounds.

While you shouldn’t feel discouraged from talking to others about your performance, you should be mindful of how you do it.

Ask your peers for a gut check about certain areas of your performance while leaving your performance feedback out of it. Ask open-ended questions and listen thoughtfully to what they say.

Ensure you’re asking others who will give you honest feedback — not just those who will give you false praise.

4. Identify Areas for Improvement

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Pressmaster /

When your supervisor has given you a broad performance review, try to find the specifics about your performance they’ve listed as an area for improvement. If you’re unsure, ask for clarification.

For example, do they mention that you’re frequently behind schedule? Could it be that you need to communicate better about bottlenecks in the process where you’re waiting for work from another department?

If your manager isn’t aware of those issues, they can’t help you resolve them. It’s up to you to address and discuss any concerns or bottlenecks with your supervisor.

Or, perhaps the challenge lies squarely on your desk, and you need to work on your time management skills. Getting a handle on your task lists and setting deadlines might be the key to staying ahead of due dates from now on.

There could even be a lack of clarity regarding which of your assignments should take precedence. If you and your leader aren’t on the same page, work with them to create a transparent process around your priorities.

5. Create an Action Plan

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Adam Gregor /

Once you’ve identified the areas you need to improve on, create actionable goals to help you exceed standards. Rather than overhauling your entire approach to work, the key is to streamline your goals and actions in a few specific areas.

Use SMART goals to create timely and defined outcomes you’re working toward.

Returning to the example of time management, your goal might be to ensure that all of your projects are on time for the next quarter.

To achieve this goal, outline a plan of action that involves setting aside time every week to analyze the progress of a project against the timeline. Note when and how you’ll communicate with your team and leader if it’s getting off track.

Coming to the discussion as coachable and willing to accept feedback can be a massive boost for repairing any damage that’s been done to your reputation.

6. Schedule a Follow-Up With Your Manager

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metamorworks /

Once you’ve analyzed your review and created an action plan to improve your performance, meet with your manager and clarify that your expectations align with theirs.

You can adjust your strategy and performance before the next review cycle if you need to adapt your focus to meet their expectations.

Make sure you’re clear on the deliverables and KPIs (key performance indicators) used to evaluate your performance. Ask for support or resources if you need them.

For instance, are there mentorship opportunities or company-provided tools that you might utilize?

Schedule regular follow-ups to check in and ensure that you continue to meet expectations for improvement.

7. Prepare Your Materials if You Disagree

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Inside Creative House /

You might disagree with the feedback and feel that you’ve been unfairly reviewed. Even if that’s the case, you still need to take the time to cool off so you can have a professional discussion.

Analyze your feedback and then gather evidence to respectfully refute their assessment.

While you might not be able to have your negative performance review changed, you can use it as a communication tool that launches a dialogue between you and your leader.

Explain politely but clearly why you feel your performance review was unfair, and support your position with data and evidence. Above all, remain cool-headed at all times.

And if you did react out of surprise or anger, apologize professionally. Acknowledge that your behavior was not acceptable and reassure your leader that you recognize and agree that your lack of decorum has no place in a professional discussion.

Maintain a Positive Mindset

Office worker

It’s challenging, but you need to take your emotions out of the mix. Getting a negative review can feel like a massive blow, but it’s important to remember the feedback is about your work, not you personally.

Take the time to analyze the feedback and be honest with yourself about whether there’s any validity in it.

When you approach your performance review with a growth mindset, you can set yourself up for success in future reviews.

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