8 Dignified Ways To Respond To A Bad Performance Review At Work

How to respond to negative feedback and regain your composure and power.

Receiving a less than perfect performance review Georgijevic | Canva

Designed to enhance your work output, performance reviews are those pivotal meetings that roll around annually (or sometimes more frequently) to assess your contributions, pinpoint missteps, and shine a light on your potential for growth.

If you’re like most people, you may have had the experience of a review where you received some unpleasant feedback or were made to feel like you messed up. It can be tough to go through one of these assessments, especially if your perspective on the events is different than your manager’s. After a less-than-perfect review, it can be easy to take a hit to your confidence.


However, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

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What to do when you get a bad performance review at work

1. Don’t let it get personal, keep it business

When you sit down for your performance review, and you know you are going to get some negative feedback, it's natural to feel a mix of emotions. You can navigate by:

  • Acknowledging your feelings: Recognize that an emotional reaction is normal, especially if your pride feels threatened. Remember, this reaction often stems from past experiences rather than the current situation.
  • Embracing a growth mindset: View criticism as a chance for professional growth. Mistakes and failures are not endpoints but part of the learning curve that propels you forward.
  • Taking time to pause and reflect: Before responding to criticism, take a moment to consider if there's a lesson to be learned. This can prevent reactive behavior and help you gain perspective.

Remember, your performance review is a valuable tool for your career development. By separating personal feelings from professional feedback, you open the door to new opportunities and a clearer path to achieving your career goals.


2. Just because they said it doesn’t make it true

While your goal may be to embrace a growth mindset and accept feedback gracefully, it can be challenging at the moment. If the feedback feels off-base, ask for clarification. Both you and your reviewer must be on the same page about your performance. Here are some things to think about:

  • Separating yourself from situation: Understand that the feedback is about your work, not you as a person. Performance reviews aim to enhance work performance, not to critique your character. Aim to understand the feedback's intent and how it can serve your growth.
  • Reflect on the nature of criticism: Recognize that criticism in a performance review is typically meant to guide you toward improvement and should not be taken as a personal affront. If you sense the intention of the feedback is not solely for your growth and benefit, take what is yours to work on from the feedback—and leave the rest.
  • Seek clarity and actionable steps: If feedback isn't clear, don't hesitate to ask for specific examples or suggestions. This shows you're engaged and willing to improve. Constructive criticism should come with supportive guidance, and it's okay to seek that out.
  • Balance feedback with self-compassion: While it's important to be open to criticism, also acknowledge what you do well. This balance can maintain your motivation and confidence, which is essential for a productive performance review.

By approaching your performance review with these strategies, you set the stage for not only accepting criticism but using it as a springboard for your professional advancement. Remember, the ultimate goal is to foster continuous improvement, so embrace each piece of feedback as a stepping stone on your career path.

3. Utilize feedback for professional development

Performance reviews are a cornerstone in your professional development, offering a structured opportunity to evaluate your work, pinpoint areas for growth, and set actionable goals. Here's how to make the most of the feedback you receive:

  • Identify areas for improvement: Use the feedback from your performance review to identify areas for improvement. This could be skill-related, such as improving your technical knowledge, or behavioral, such as enhancing teamwork or communication.
  • Leverage different feedback types: Understand that feedback comes in various forms—constructive, positive, and even 360-degree from peers. Each type offers unique insights and contributes to your professional development. Embrace all feedback as a composite guide to your growth. Seek feedback from mentors or trusted partners who are not your managers to get a fuller picture of how you are showing up in your role.
  • Document your progress: Keep a record of your achievements, feedback received, and areas of improvement. This documentation can serve as a reference for your professional growth and help you prepare for future reviews.
  • Seek continuous feedback: Beyond the formal review, seek informal feedback from colleagues and managers. This can provide ongoing insights into your performance and help you adjust your strategies as needed.

By actively engaging with your performance review and utilizing the feedback constructively, you set the stage for continuous professional growth and development. Remember, the goal is to use each piece of feedback as a stepping stone toward your career aspirations, making the most of the opportunities to learn, improve, and excel.

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4. Create a personal action plan

After receiving your performance review, it's time to take proactive steps toward professional growth and create a personal action plan that's tailored to your needs.

Streesed woman got a bad performance review PeopleImages.com - Yuri A via Shutterstock


5. Reflect on review criteria

  • Understand the evaluation: Familiarize yourself with the rating scale and criteria used in your performance review. Knowing what benchmarks were used for evaluation will help you focus on the right areas.
  • Self-reflection: Take some time to think about your performance and behavior. What were your standout achievements? Where did you face challenges? This honest reflection is the foundation of your action plan.
  • Tell your story: Now that you know how you are being evaluated, take time to reflect on how you’ve met the goals or standards set and create your own “elevator pitch” around your performance. This is a great way to ensure you’ll be ready and confident when discussions of your performance come up in the future.
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6. Set SMART goals

  • Prioritize improvement areas: Review the feedback and identify which areas are most critical for improvement. For each, set SMART goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • Breakdown steps: Divide each goal into smaller tasks, assign deadlines, and decide how you'll measure success. This makes your plan actionable and trackable. It also helps your brain get small dopamine hits every time you achieve a step, which will help you focus on achieving more.

She made a bad performance review work for her insta_photos via Shutterstock

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7. Collaborate and communicate

  • Engage with your manager: Share your action plan with your manager, seeking their input and approval. This can include discussing the rationale behind your goals, the benefits of achieving them, and setting up a schedule for regular check-ins. This is a critical piece of laying the foundation for promotions, raises, and stretch assignments.
  • Performance improvement plan (PIP): If your review has resulted in a PIP, understand its purpose and collaborate with your manager to set clear objectives. Define the support you'll need and schedule regular progress meetings. Remember, the PIP is a structured way to support your professional development.

By following these steps, you'll create an action plan that not only addresses the feedback from your performance review but also sets you on a path to achieving your career aspirations. Keep the plan flexible and update it as you progress, ensuring that it continues to reflect your development needs and career goals. Put a regular cadence on your calendar to update your plan.  This makes it easier to remember and document your wins.


8. Transform feedback into development

Embracing the core principles of understanding the review's purpose, handling emotions, and fostering a growth mindset positions you to transform feedback into actionable paths for development. This process is not just an assessment of past achievements but a critical dialogue to align your future aspirations with the company's vision, ultimately enhancing your role within the broader organizational goals.

As you move forward with these crucial conversations, the importance of viewing performance reviews as a two-way street cannot be overstressed. They are not merely a professional ritual but a strategic opportunity for profound personal and career growth. By engaging with feedback and charting a clear course for improvement, you can navigate the complexities of your professional landscape with confidence and grace.

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Amy Bracht is a coach and consultant with a knack for transforming high-level concepts into practical solutions. She crafts innovative strategies designed to guide individuals toward their full potential.