5 Ways to Handle a Bad Performance Review Like a Pro

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Even if you tried your best to impress your managers and meet your quotas last year, nobody's perfect. If a less-than-stellar performance review is in your future — or sitting on your desk — resist the urge to tell management where to get off. Instead, handle it like a professional and you can walk away from the conversation with big brownie points from the boss. Our experts weigh in on the top five ways to handle a negative review.

1. Stay calm.

The first thing for an employee to remember before a performance review is to remain calm and collected, says Scott Fitch, division president of Insperity Performance and Organizational Management.

"No one benefits from getting upset or losing his or her temper," Fitch says. "Like any meeting, an employee should prepare before the performance review by making a list of accomplishments. Be ready to discuss areas of success and opportunities for improvement. If an employee takes an honest, critical look at the year's performance, a lot of surprises may be eliminated during the meeting."

Regardless of how you really feel about your review, the only answer when getting feedback is to say 'Thank you' and to take some time to digest it before responding further," explains Suzanne Peterson, associate professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

"The minute you argue with the feedback or appear defensive, you gain the labels uncoachable, un-self-aware or too emotional. These labels can damage your overall reputation," Peterson says. "You must become known as someone who is perceived as taking feedback well, regardless of its validity."

2. Have an open dialogue.

Long gone are the days a supervisor spoke and the employee simply listened, Fitch explains. Both individuals have a responsibility during the review process to address concerns candidly and help build a more productive work environment.

"Employees should appreciate feedback. It's a way to grow and improve. If they misread criticism or become defensive, it's a wasted opportunity," he says. "With any communication, transparency is key."

To get the dialogue off on the right foot, employees shouldn't act surprised if they know they didn't hit the mark, says Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR and leadership development firm. It's best just to own up to it.

"You should always come to a performance discussion prepared to participate in the conversation. Bring examples of your accomplishments, and expect to be asked about things that didn't go so well," she says.

Also, don't forget that your review is a great time to ask for help if you need it. Now is not the time to be a victim, Barrett says.

"Leave the conversation with a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you, and what you can expect from your boss," she says.

3. Show you're willing to learn from your weaknesses.

Sometimes it can be humbling for individuals to admit their weaknesses or areas in which they have struggled, but managers are likely to appreciate their willingness to improve, says Angelo Kinicki, management professor at the Carey School.

"Whether you are asked or not, come to the review prepared to discuss both your achievements and your missed objectives," Kinicki says. "For those areas in which you underperformed, prepare ideas about what went wrong and how you will get your performance back to acceptable levels. If you think some type of training or coaching is needed, ask for it."

During the review, employees should develop a plan with their manager for how to improve and begin setting monthly, attainable goals as to how those improvements will be executed, says Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm.

"While it's important that employees set high expectations for themselves, it doesn't do any good to over promise and under deliver. Employees should be honest with their manager on what is a manageable list of achievements and improvements that can be made," Gimbel says.

4. Don't make excuses.

If something in the system or organization prevented you from achieving your goal, it's OK to talk about that, but be careful not to pass the buck, Barrett says.

"For example, if you were tasked with delivering a program but the online resources you were supposed to use crashed, then just say something like, 'Unfortunately the online resource wasn't available, and I'm continuing to work with that group to find a solution.' This statement explains that the issue was not with you, and shows that you are doing something about it."

A manager does not want to hear one excuse after another from an employee, but rather that you understand the situation and that you're taking the right steps to improve in the future, Fitch says.

Ideally, you should feel comfortable talking about what went wrong without sounding overly defensive, Kinicki says, adding that "Managers like employees to take ownership."

Overall, it's best to avoid any sugarcoating and be honest, Gimbel says.

"Don't just talk about weaknesses; have a plan in place to fix them," he says. "Don't bother making excuses for what went wrong — own it and see it as an opportunity for improvement."

5. Ask for regular, consistent feedback moving forward.

If your negative review came as a surprise, it's a sign you're not getting the feedback you need from your managers on a weekly or monthly basis. While reviews are great, conversations about performance should happen regularly, Gimbel says.

"If an employee isn't receiving feedback, they should ask for it. Reach out to managers and ask if there was a better way of handling a certain situation immediately after it happens. Ask where your latest project needed improvement," he says. "Feedback is the only way to grow professionally."

Also, keep in mind that not everything you get critical feedback on requires action, says Shawnice Meador, director of career management and leadership development for MBA@UNC.

"It is important for you to grasp everything that really makes a difference and have a plan of action on how to continually grow and improve," Meador says.

While some feedback will warrant immediate action for you to be successful in your role, other feedback is considered "white noise": good to know, but not always relevant to succeeding in your current role.

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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