What To Do When You Get A Bad Performance Review

Workin’ Girl

I felt the heat rising to my cheeks, a slight tingling continuing up to my temples and inching up the back of my ears. I took another sip of water, trying desperately to keep my composure.


Inhale. Count to 10. Exhale.

I pressed my fingertips against my temples and then reached for my glass once more, hoping to feign my horror as dehydration, when in reality, I was trying to keep the tears from flowing.

Keeping it 100% real: receiving negative feedback hurts.

We have all read the quotes touting the importance of bouncing back, how constructive criticism makes us better and stronger, and the role of adversity in identifying areas for improvement… the list is endless. However, these supposed benefits aren't always realized when first delivered.

Upon receipt of a negative review, feelings of inadequacy, frustration, confusion, denial, and even hopelessness can rise to the surface. And it's okay to acknowledge their existence in your quest for a comeback rather than force them down.

Especially for my fellow overachievers, receiving negative feedback when you are already your biggest critic isn't always easy. But, just know that you are not alone. Here are 5 tips to help you get back on track.

3 R’s: Reflect, React, Rebound

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We all learned how to stop, drop, and roll in response to a sudden fire as children. Now, the 3 R's are our response to professional fire drills. Upon receiving constructive feedback, take a moment to digest the information prior to responding or defending yourself (reflect). Be it 24 hours later, or during a scheduled follow-up meeting, streamline stated feedback into action items that you can address, seek clarification upon, and implement (react). Later, apply stated feedback and/or provide proof of adherence to begin the process of working towards more solid, positive future feedback (rebound).

Note Areas for Improvement

An extension of the first "R", reflect, be sure to specifically note which items you need to improve upon and ensure that you fully understand what changes are being asked of you. If your manager requests that you come in earlier, your next question should be: "What time?" Don't make assumptions. Ask for explicit examples of improved performance so you will know how to succeed and what benchmarks you're being judged against.

Implement Feedback

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After you know what is expected of you, do it! Even if it takes a while to get in the swing of things, remember that repetition and "practice makes permanent". Expectation setting and reshaping your own habits can be especially difficult when you work with managers who are particularly set in their ways.

Note: While you are trying to work your way towards more favorable reviews, this is often not the best time to try to force new ideas or changes to your team or boss, even if your suggestions are "right" or "more efficient". Know your manager and know your timing. Your opportunity to make a meaningful impact will come and will likely be more greatly appreciated when they trust the consistency and quality of your work.

Document Your Adherence

Keep your receipts, sis. Not only does documentation show good organization and listening skills, but in the event any questions regarding your improvement arise, it's always good to have clearly outlined examples of your behavior handy. In some situations, your documentation can be your lifeline. Don't let others put words in your mouth.

Proactively Seek Feedback

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You don't have to wait to be surprised during your performance review and feedback sessions. If anything, you should aim to not have any surprises during your review cycles. Be proactive and try asking your interviewers out to coffee or making a point to check in with your manager once or twice a week to assess how they feel about your performance. Sometimes small annoyances like your project turnover rate or time spent on your cell phone can manifest into job-altering assumptions from the viewpoint of your manager. Don't wait until it's too late. Check in early.

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