Even positive performance reviews can be uncomfortable or awkward.
But when an evaluation starts to head south, the process becomes even tougher to manage.
It’s difficult to hear negative feedback, especially if you weren’t expecting it. But don’t react impulsively and try to avoid having a knee-jerk reaction by getting emotional, defensive or trying to debate the feedback.
“Everything you feel like doing is going to make it worse,” said Marie McIntyre, a career coach in Atlanta and author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” “The things that will make it better are not the things you feel like doing.”
But how you handle yourself during and after a negative performance review can have a big impact on getting back on track.
Fight the urge to get contentious when digesting the bad review.
“If you become negative and get emotional and defensive, that is harder to overcome than the review itself,” said Kate O’Sullivan, a career coach.
While it’s easier said than done, strive to remain calm and receptive to the feedback. “Stay calm, even if that means saying nothing,” she said. Take notes and ask for some time to process the information.
“You can give yourself a wallow period and think about what was said, but don’t freak out publicly.”
Plus, arguing probably won’t get you anywhere.
“By the time you get the bad review or warning, your boss has already talked to their boss and probably HR, it has already gone through a lot of discussion and there has been some agreement,” noted McIntyre.
Acknowledge the message was received
If you are playing it cool and not saying much to avoid letting your emotions show, you still need to make it clear you’ve heard the concerns.
In order to to confirm you understand the feedback, McIntyre suggested saying something like: “I understand your concern about missed deadlines” or “I understand there seem to be some issues with my coworkers and I am concerned about that.”
Create a plan
Now that the problems have been identified, create a plan on how to turn things around.
“Set expectations on what needs to be done to remedy, not reverse it,” said Lisa Rangel, managing director of Chameleon Resumes.
Once you have a plan, request a meeting with your manager to review it and get feedback.
“You want this to be a partnership,” said O’Sullivan. “You don’t want to go back asking: ‘What should I do?’”
Set goals that are reasonable, measurable and mutually agreed upon.
Get back on the calendar
Don’t let a year or six months go by before a re-evaluation of your performance.
Ask for more regular check-ins to evaluate your progress.
“You want a more formal and frequent reporting structure temporarily, so you can show you are interested in reversing the trend,” said Rangel.
Asking for a formal followup review gives you the chance to get a more positive review back on your record.
You can also provide regular updates via emails or a shared document that show your progress.
You don’t need to start staying in the office at all hours, but you do need to put your plan into action quickly.
Sometimes you can be putting in crazy hours, but still be missing the mark. “You can list your three priorities and make sure the manager agrees on them so then it’s not about hours, but what success looks like on those priorities,” said O’Sullivan.
Talk to others
If you’re completely caught off guard by a negative review and are really struggling to understand the critique, talk to trusted colleagues familiar with your work.
Don’t make the conversation gossipy, just ask for an honest opinion.
If you don’t already have one, now is a good time to find a mentor who can help you navigate your path forward and provide feedback and guidance.
Use it to your advantage
How you respond to a negative review can have a lasting impact on your personal brand.
“How you handle that difficulty and whether you are resilient and turn around and focus more, will leave you with a better personal brand than someone who never hit a speed bump,” said O’Sullivan. “You can make your personal brand about resilience and bouncing back.”