Skip to Main Content
by Cathy Vandewater | October 20, 2010


You're shaken, angry, and full of adrenaline—a natural response to a less than stellar review of your work.

But drop those fists: a bad performance review doesn't have to be a disaster. It all depends on how you respond. And handling it well requires a cool head, clear mind, and these 4 steps to recovery.

1. Clarify

Fight the impulse to blindly defend yourself and sling blame—and stay off of Facebook. Instead, aim to clarify the feedback you've heard without getting defensive.

Consider the possibility that the criticism is less severe than it feels. Take a moment and replay the conversation in your head. Did you ignore a good chunk of positive feedback and get stuck on one or two suggestions for improvement? Are you just used to hearing critiques in a different communication style? Weigh these factors first before assuming you've been poorly reviewed.

As for any obviously negative feedback you received, make it your new mission to get as much information as possible--keeping in mind that the goal is to understand the issue and improve, not to be testy.

2. Re-review

After you've had time to gather your thoughts, set up a second review session with your supervisor. This will help to ensure that you're prioritizing correctly, while demonstrating that you're proactive and flexible. It also starts a feedback loop that, if maintained, can keep you from getting ambushed next year.

During the conversation, take notes so that you only have to hear these things once, and ask for specific examples (such as an instance when you lacked teamwork skills).

Read your takeaways back to your reviewer—are you grasping the main issues? If not, try asking what you could have done differently to prevent the issues; hearing the information in terms of action points may help you understand how to progress in the future.

If you feel you're being unfairly assessed, pull together your records and see if you have evidence to the contrary. (This generally only works with something specific, like if you've been accused of missing days or coming in late and you can prove otherwise, or have documented excuses). If you've got the goods, bring them to the re-review--e-mail printouts, a doctor's note, or your boss' go ahead on something. Again, it's best not to not appear defensive or aggressive—diplomacy is the key to getting your case heard.

3. Write a rebuttal

If you feel that the poor evaluation contained less constructive criticism than personal attack (or suspect that an interpersonal issue with a supervisor or a company agenda is at the heart of the critique),it's a good idea to have your version of the past year on record. Especially if you see legal proceedings on the horizon.

A rebuttal should not directly reference complaints issued about you, but rather read as a single page summary of the positive points of your year with the company. The more specific you can be, the better—"I worked hard" is much more easily dismissed than, "My team persuaded the Cohen account to switch from our consulting services to investment banking, which resulted in a $30,000 profit when it sold."

Don't be afraid to cite positive comments from clients or other coworkers that disputes feedback from your review. Then, submit the rebuttal to your boss or HR. It may not completely exonerate you, but it could help management reassess their overall perceptions of your work and value to the company.

4. Move on

Emotionally, that is. Unless you've clearly been issued your walking papers, there's no need to run screaming from the office (or into the arms of a competitor).

Bad reviews can happen to good people, and receiving one doesn't mean you're doomed as an employee. There may even be positive takeaways, like the chance to assess whether you're on the right career track, or a lesson in handling crappy management.

With that in mind, the best way to look at a poor review is not as a threat but an opportunity: whether that's to improve, move on or chart a new course entirely is up to you.


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume

Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews