The good way to respond to a bad performance review

Pro tip: Don’t cry. Instead, put your energy into making a comeback.

The good way to respond to a bad performance review

Performance reviews are part of being in the workplace, and sometimes, unfortunately, bad performance reviews happen to good people. Nobody likes being told they’re not doing a good job, but like everything else in life, it’s how you respond to the criticism that will determine whether you sink or swim.

Well, some people respond better than others. Adobe polled 1,500 workers and learned that 22% of respondents have cried, 37% have looked for another job and 20% have quit as a result of a bad performance review.


To avoid resorting to weepy extremes in the aftermath of your performance evaluation, let’s take a look at how you can better handle the situation.

Prior to the performance review, it’s pre-game time. Create a list of specific talking points that reflect your diligence and hard work—not to mention accolades from colleagues and clients—throughout the year. This way, no matter what happens during the conversation, you’re feeling confident and are ready to address how you make a positive impact on the organization.

If negative feedback is being heaped upon you during the performance evaluation itself and you feel tears coming on, don’t shed them. You can do that later. For now, focus on your breathing.  

Managers aren’t created equally, and some are more helpful than others with constructive criticism. Don’t take any of this personally. Instead, push back by asking questions.

If your performance appraisal was rated poorly, get specific clarification on what and how you can improve. What are your weaknesses? What are the deliverables you’re responsible for, and when are the deadlines? What are your boss’s expectations of you in this position? You want to be rated exceptional next year, so find out what it takes to get there.

While your boss is explaining this to you, take copious notes; later, transcribe those notes in an email to yourself. That way, the information will be dated and easily searchable. Refer back to these notes in the coming weeks to stay on track to reaching your goals. In the event you have met all of the deliverables and still get a poor review next time, you’ll be able to reference this email in your retort.

Stand up for yourself, as well. If you feel your manager is wrong, prove it to them—while remaining calm, cool, and collected. Politely state your case, and stick to the facts. For example: “While you’re entitled to your opinion, I worked on that three-month project without any supervision or assistance and saved the company $100,000. I’m curious as to why you think I did a bad job.”

Make it a conversation, a dialogue. You’re listening and gathering information while stating your case. As you’re having the conversation, remind yourself, “No tears!” As upset as you may be, remember that you are actually in control of your career.

How? Because if, at your next review, your boss doesn’t think you add value (despite your proof) and your morale is shot, you should be plenty motivated to look for a new job.

It never hurts to keep both eyes and ears open for a better opportunity. It’s free to look. This is your future. You have the power to do something about it—find an employer who will build you up, not tear you down. 


Monster’s career expert Vicki Salemi has more than 15 years of experience in corporate recruiting and HR and is author of Big Career in the Big City. Follow her on Twitter at @vickisalemi