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So You Got a Bad Review. Now What?

Most of us strive for excellence at the office, or at the very least to not have our shortcomings engraved on a plaque in the break room, but let’s face it — bad performance reviews happen.

Oppenheim Bernhard | Riser | Getty Images

So what do you do if your boss gives you a bad review?

First, don’t panic. Shake it off. There’s always another chance, another door to open, another job if necessary — if you just unwedge yourself from the rock and a hard place many people carve out for themselves when things don’t go their way.

“The toughest part is getting past the emotions,” said Marie McIntyre, a career coach and author of “The Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Don’t make any hasty responses — especially when you’re angry or upset. That could lead to saying something to the boss that you’ll regret.

“Try to be in that logical, rational part of your mind — that’s what’s going to get you out of there,” McIntyre said. “So few people do that, but it really impresses management when you do.”

McIntyre offers these eight steps for how to respond to a bad performance review.

1. Show that you got the message. When you get a bad review, your boss is sending you a message about something that he is unhappy with. Your first order of business is to show that you have received that message.

”Even if you don’t completely agree, you need to show that you understand,” McIntyre said. “The more you argue or debate, the more they’ll try to beat the message into you. If you show that you got the message, that will terminate a lot of that conversation,” she said.

“If the boss thinks you’ve gotten the message, their attitude changes,” McIntyre said.

2. Change your attitude. Obviously, whatever you’re doing isn’t working. In fact, if you’ve received a bad review, what you’re doing is the opposite of working. Even if you think your boss is an idiot, it doesn’t matter, McIntyre said. She’s your idiot, the one who does your performance review, and if you want to right this ship, it’s your attitude that’s going to have to change. So shake off all the bad feelings for what you’ve done or how you feel wronged. Open yourself up to new approaches and adopt a can-do attitude — that despite what you think you should be doing, you’re going to do whatever it takes to meet the boss’s goals.

3. Ask what you can do to improve the rating. If you’re falling short of your boss’s expectations, then guess who the best person to ask for advice is? That’s right — your boss! Just because he gave you a bad review doesn’t make him the enemy. Ask him for advice on how to improve for the next time. That will not only help you improve your rating at the next review, it will improve your relationship with your boss.

4. Present a plan. Once you’ve received the message, and figured out what you can do to improve your work situation, you need to convey that plan to the boss so she knows that you took the criticism seriously and that you’re willing to change.

Let’s say your boss says you need to communicate better with your team members. You go back to your boss and you say something like, “I realize I need to work on relationships with my team members. … One of the things I decided to do — I’m going to read a book on how to handle difficult conversations. And, I’m going to ask each of my team members what they think would be a better way to give them feedback,” McIntyre said.

5. Schedule a follow-up meeting with the boss. McIntyre suggests that you request a meeting with your boss in a few weeks or a few months to see how your new approach is working and if there’s anything you need to tweak or change.

“You need to do the opposite of what you want to do, which is get out of the room and not think about it again until next year!” McIntyre said.

If you don’t want another bad review to sneak up on you next year, you’ve got to deal with it now. Just rip the Band-Aid off and get it over with.

If things seem like they’re turning around, ask for an informal review in six months. “Then you can get that in your personnel file and when someone goes to look at your file, that’s the first thing they’ll see — not the bad review,” McIntyre said.

6. Ask for positive feedback. Bosses are busy people and they don’t always have time to tell you when you’re doing a good job. The bad stuff needs to be fixed but the good stuff — it’s easy to let it slip by unrecognized. So, if you feel like your review was all negative, negative, negative, simply ask the boss what he thinks went well this year.

That does two things: It reminds the boss of the good stuff you’ve done, and it gives you a little shot of confidence in the process!

7. Pay attention to the written comments. If your company uses a numerical-ratings system, pay closer attention to the written comments than the numerical rating, McIntyre advises. The reason is simple: A lot of companies have a sort of rationing approach, where they’re only allowed to give out a certain number of the top ratings. You may have received an “average” or “meets expectations” rating simply because there were no more top ratings left. And who knows what the methodology was that they used to ration out the numbers.

8. Don’t tie your review to your self-worth. “You’re more than your rating!” McIntyre exclaimed.

It’s so easy to let a bad rating get you down and make you feel bad about yourself. Remember that you’re more than your job and you’re more than this rating.

And that’s a slippery slope: Next thing you know, you’re being passive-aggressive with the boss, putting less effort into the job or lacking the confidence to take chances.

Sure, success is great. But remember, how you handle failure has more to do with defining your character than success does.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.”

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