For Women & Co. by Mercedes Cardona, OMH Communications
Once a year, you probably have to sweat out the annual employee performance review. And, if your employer is doing it right, it’s not only when you find out how much of a raise you’re getting, but where you stand and where you’re going in your career.
A glowing performance review is always a good experience, but a negative one doesn’t have to be a setback. You can turn a bad review into an opportunity to grow and improve your career if you handle it the right way. “Plenty of highly successful performers have had a not-so-stellar review at some point in their career,” says Nancy Sherr, life coach and owner of A Zestful Life in New York.
The first priority is to stay calm and objective—a tall order after hearing negatives about yourself, but it’s important if you’re going to be constructive going forward. “By handling the interaction in good form, you’ll illuminate your ability to remain professional in what may be a challenging situation,” Sherr says. “Becoming defensive, argumentative, angry, or sobbing will not lead to a positive outcome.”
The easiest way to remain calm is not to respond right away. Most employers will give you a copy of your performance review in writing for your records, so sit with it and really pay attention to the critique. Then, ask your supervisor to explain what his or her expectations are: What exactly would have earned you a good review on each point?
“Let it sink in,” says Linda Wright of Wright Co-Active Coaching. “A lot times if you’re handed a bad review, you see it as: ‘You’ve done poorly and everything is wrong.’ Well,” she points out, “that may not be the case. It may be one area where you need to work.”
How to respond is another issue. Experts disagree on whether to contest the substance of the review. Unless you have some specific achievements you want to point out that were overlooked, arguing that the criticism is unfair can be counterproductive. After all, it is based on the impressions of your supervisor about how you perform within the company.
It is a good idea, however, to set up a time to sit with your supervisor and develop a plan to work on the weak spots that were mentioned in the review. “Everyone is not super-duper at everything,” says Robin Samora, president of Let’s Make You Shine. “It’s a good idea for the supervisor to be able to expand on your strengths and offer suggestions for things they think you can do. You can also ask what development programs are available in the company.”
A negative performance review doesn’t have to be a setback.
If you’re told you’re having trouble expressing yourself or participating at meetings, you can ask if the company will help you join a training group such as Toastmasters. If it’s technical or language skills, maybe your boss can help you line up training or classes. The bottom line is: You need to own up to the trouble spots and offer ways to improve.
During the performance review, listen carefully and ask questions, but frame them in a positive manner: “What would have been a better solution?” is better than “What would you rather have had me do?” A good manager will perceive your interest and focus as a good sign, says Sherr.
Samora recalled once in her twenties when she got a 2% raise that she felt was smaller than she deserved. So she set up a meeting, asked her boss to reconsider, and she not only got a bigger raise, but a confidence boost, as well. “There’s always a nice way to say everything, even when it’s unpleasant,” she says. “You have to be able to stand up for yourself.”
Wrap up your meeting by setting up a timeframe to check in again with the boss to ask about your progress. Regular check-ins should be a part of your routine, anyway.
Negative reviews rarely come out of left field, say experts. If they do, it can be a sign that there’s something wrong in the workplace or how you fit into it. If that’s the case, you need to take inventory and decide how to move on. It can be asking for a transfer to another department—or maybe starting a job search.
“You can tell if the supervisor is willing to work with you or not,” says Wright. “If they gave you a bad review and just want to get rid of you, you’re going to know that.”