It can be hard to recover from a less-than-stellar performance review, especially one you didn’t see coming. You might feel angry, embarrassed and confused. How do you regain your professional confidence after a bad performance review? How do you make the best use of the critical feedback?
Negative feedback often contradicts the stories that we tell about ourselves — what we’re good at, what we’re capable of. Sometimes it confirms our worst fears. But don’t let a negative review unravel the story of who you are. No one is perfect. We’re human beings. Sometimes a reality check is quite valuable. Without feedback, there wouldn’t be any possibility for growth. Always getting a glowing review may mean that you’re not challenging yourself. Critical input can be a signal that you’re tackling things that are stretching you. Still, it doesn’t feel good. Here’s how to bounce back from a negative review.
It’s tempting to get angry or defensive after a bad performance review or rating, especially if you’re accustomed to positive reviews. It’s important to hold your emotions in check. There’s nothing to be gained by lashing out or putting down the system or the person delivering the review. Take a few days to let the feedback sink in. If it helps, find a friend to vent to, but try to do it outside of the office.
It’s possible that you may not recognise yourself in the feedback. Despite our best intentions, there is often a gap between how we see ourselves and the way that others actually see us. We need other people to help us see ourselves. Although it can be comforting to lean on a sympathetic friend, try to seek out those who will be candid with you instead of telling you that the input isn’t true. Think about talking to friends who can help you learn from the feedback, rather than simply reinforce your self-perception. Ask yourself: ‘What might be right about this criticism? Have I heard it before?’ Perhaps your tone comes across as more exasperated than you intend. Maybe colleagues feel you shoot down ideas too quickly, even though you believe that you keep an open mind.
If after some self-reflection, you still don’t understand the roots of the critique, reach out to colleagues for additional feedback, again making it clear you are interested in honesty, not consolation.
Once you’ve cooled off, make sure you fully understand the review. That may involve going back to your boss with questions. If anything is not crystal clear, ask. Be careful with your tone. You don’t want to appear as if you’re challenging the review. Ask as many questions as possible. If your boss says you aren’t taking enough risks, ask, “Can you give me an example of a time when I should have taken the initiative but didn’t? What might you have done?” If your team is excelling in some performance targets, but bombing in others, ask what level of performance might be considered a success and for insight into how to achieve it. Make it clear you want concrete examples of what you should be doing differently.
The purpose of feedback and the performance review is (ideally) to help you improve in your job, and that requires a detailed plan of action. That may involve learning new skills, re-prioritising your tasks, or re-evaluating how you come across to colleagues. Agree with your manager on what you need to do to make changes. Give yourself thirty or sixty days to experiment with trying to do a couple of things differently. Then check in with the relevant people, and say, ‘Look, I’m changing how I’m approaching this but help me see if I’m on track.’ Ask for an interim review with your manager to make sure that you’re making the performance improvements that you want to make. Ask your boss if you can set a date now for a meeting in three or six months. That way you can make sure your performance meets everyone’s expectations.
Remember that if the evaluation within the performance review is not be fully within your control, your reaction to it is. Imagine that there is a second assessment, based on how you respond to the review and give yourself a score for your handling of it. You could get an F on the exam, but if you get an A on what you do with it, that’s what matters. That’s what determines whether you get an A the next time. Aiming for a great second score, and perhaps sharing that with your boss will remind you that the negative review is not the end of your professional story.
Once you’ve taken the time for introspection, you may realise that your lagging performance isn’t a result of a blind spot, but rather an indication that you simply aren’t in the right position. Sometimes it takes an event like a negative review to realise you’re not a good fit for the organisation. Regardless of whether you stay or move on, use the review as a springboard for change — and success. Many, many successful people have failed at various points in their career. Most of them later looked back on it as a real opportunity. So even though it feels really crappy, just think, this is your chance.
Ask questions and get clarification — it’s critical to understand the specific ways you can improve
Take the initiative to make a detailed plan of action
Remember to see the value in feedback — it can be a springboard for positive change
Get angry or argue with the feedback — you’ll only make things worse
Turn only to sympathetic friends to vent — you also need honest mirrors to make sense of the review
Consider the review the final word — how you react to the feedback is far more important.
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