What to do When Receiving A Negative Performance Review

career Jun 04, 2018

If your boss has just given you a negative performance review, you may feel shocked, hurt, angry or confused. Ouch, these can be crushing and leave you feeling deflated and questioning what did you do wrong or what more could you have done?

Often times we may not agree with them and wonder how they came to conclude that our performance warranted such a harsh review.

In fact, you may even question whether or not the review is even about you!

“No one bats a thousand,” says Mitchell Marks, professor of management at San Francisco State University and president of the consultancy JoiningForces.org. “We’re human beings. And sometimes a reality check is quite valuable.” Without feedback, after all, there wouldn’t be any possibility for growth. “Always getting a glowing review means that you’re not challenging yourself,” says Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Critical input can be “a signal that you’re tackling things that are stretching you.”

So what's the best thing to do? How should you react and move forward? In this post, we give you our best advice on what to do when facing a negative performance review.

1. Stay Calm

The first thing to do is remain calm. Inevitably your emotions will kick in and you may even get triggered and want to fight back and start arguing. You may feel like yelling and vehemently defending yourself. None of that will do you any good and could lead to a career-defining moment when your unprofessional behavior sets you back.

Simply stay calm.

2. Reflect on The Review

Take a few days to reflect on the feedback and let it soak in. If it would help to vent then do it with a friend or your partner. They don't need to offer any advice but just listen to you get it off your chest.

3. Learn From the Feedback

Instead of looking for people to confirm that your boss is wrong and the feedback invalid, seek out opinions from people that can give you honest feedback from a different perspective. Maybe there is some element of your performance you are indeed overlooking, something you've missed, or don't see in yourself.

Try and find other people that can see in you what your boss has indicated in your review too.

4. Ask Your Boss Questions

Set up a meeting with your boss to review his feedback so that you can more fully understand it. Then prepare the meeting not to defend and attack but to listen and to understand where he or she is coming from. Your review should be based on observable behaviors and results, therefore, your boss should be able to back everything up with solid examples. If she says "I feel you aren't committed enough", ask for specific examples that give her that opinion.

If your team is doing fantastic in some performance targets, but poorly in others, ask what level of performance is considered a success and for suggestions on how to achieve it.

It's important that you always seek specific and concrete examples of what you should be doing differently so that you can work towards improving in the future.

Use facts to learn more. If no facts or concrete examples exist you have grounds to challenge your boss and make it clear the review is unhelpful and inaccurate since there are no facts to support it.

5. Ask For Feedback On How To Improve

Following the feedback, ask your boss about ways in which you can improve to meet your job requirements and then prepare an improvement plan on the steps you are going to take to improve and get a fantastic review next time around. Agree on this plan with your boss so he can see you are committed to improving and have taken his feedback onboard.

Your plan should give you 30 to 60 days to experiment with trying to do a couple of things differently. During this time check in with the anybody that is affected by these changes and ask them for feedback on the changes. Explain what you have done and ask for comment.

Don't leave your boss out of the loop either. Ask your boss if you can set a date for a meeting in three or six months time, that way you can make sure your performance meets everyone’s expectations.

6. Focus on How You Handle the Review

Ok so you had a crappy review and it hurt your ego. Now's the time to turn it around and focus on what it has taught you. This could include even considering whether or not you are in the right position or the right organisation. Often it can take a harsh review to shake us and help us to move on even if that means leaving this boss or organisation.

Your harsh review was a reflection of your past performance but it doesn't need to also be a reflection of how you handle the feedback. A one-star review can be turned into a 5-star reaction and performance improvement plan.

Key Points to Remember


  • Keep calm
  • Seek opinions of others
  • Aks for concrete examples of poor performance
  • Ask for ways to improve
  • Ask for support where necessary
  • Develop an improvement plan


  • Get angry and defend aggressively
  • Seeking supportive friends that will not give you honest feedback
  • Accept the review without making any changes to improve

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