The best way to pick yourself up and move forward after a lousy performance review

  • More than 90 percent of companies use ratings to measure performance.
  • Many companies give up to 80 percent of their workforce a C rating.
  • Taking the right steps in the days following a poor performance review could make you a standout employee down the road.
Eric Audras | PhotoAlto | Getty Images

So you didn't quite expect the poor marks you received on your last performance review. While your first reaction may be anger, the worst thing you can do is lash out and act defensive. But don't be discouraged. More than 90 percent of companies use ratings to measure performance, giving up to 80 percent of their workforce a C rating.

As vice president of employee success at Reflektive, a people-management platform, I have been on the other side of these one-on-ones for years. But don't despair. Rather than getting emotional, take the time to reflect, clarify expectations with your manager, and identify some opportunities for growth. If you use your review as an opportunity to improve your performance, you will inevitably build a stronger employee-manager relationship and begin to stand out from your colleagues.

It's natural to find it difficult to forge ahead in the wake of a lousy review, but the fastest road to recovery is to shift your focus on all the positive things you can accomplish in the future. Here are some tips on what employees should do the day (and weeks) following their review to start down the path toward improvement.

Take a breather

Before you jump into action, take some time to sort through your thoughts. Talk with a friend or family member, go for a walk, have some tea — whatever helps you clear your head. This will give you space to find a calm state of mind.

Neuroscience tells us receiving feedback is like being attacked by a wild animal. Your initial reaction might be to defend yourself or shut down — the classic fight-or-flight mentality, especially if feedback is poorly delivered. Sometimes your performance-review score will impact your compensation. But you can get past this.

"Sometimes we make the mistake of taking feedback personally. ... Ask for a specific example and talk through how things could be done differently next time. Examples will help you see how you can improve and get you into your growth mindset."

Identify what is helpful

Not all feedback is created equal. Consider what is helpful to you — and drop the rest. Was there a piece of the feedback that can help you grow? Or perhaps, what have you learned not to do from observing how your manager conducts reviews?

There is a difference between a good manager and a great manager. Feedback is a key area where this distinction is revealed. Some managers lean on that C rating or critical feedback because they want to be helpful, or worry they won't seem authoritative if they are only giving positive feedback. Other times manager bias can cause a manager to be more critical than other managers in the organization, or compare everyone on the team to one top performer's high standard. In probably the worst case, a manager gives critical feedback simply to vent.

Share the feedback with a close friend

Your friends and family know you the best. Talk to someone you trust. Share the feedback you received and ask for their perspective. Their observations of you may provide more clarity into what the feedback is intended to address. Perhaps they see one piece of feedback you can grow from and can share it in a way that is helpful.

The lessons we learn at work can benefit us in our personal lives. The way we relate to others is surprisingly consistent across work, family, friend and romantic relationships. Sometimes the stress at work can expose a weakness. By identifying it, you may be able to improve how you connect with those most close to you. Don't miss the opportunity for self-improvement.

Ask clarifying questions

After you've had time to clear your mind, go back to your manager with clarifying questions. This will help you understand what he or she expects you to do differently moving forward.

Sometimes we make the mistake of taking feedback personally. We hear, "You need to work on time management," and think, "I am bad at time management." In this case, you'd want to ask for a specific example and talk through how things could be done differently next time. Examples will help you see how you can improve and get you into your growth mindset.

Move forward

Now that you've taken the time to reflect on your performance review and feedback, you are ready to move forward. Give yourself some gratitude. Instead of being reactive or defensive, you've turned this feedback into something useful. This will help you grow in your career and give good feedback to others in the future.