Skip to main content

Triumph Over a Bad Performance Review

Triumph Over a Bad Performance Review

By Margaret Steen, Monster Contributing Writer

Almost every performance review includes some criticism. But what happens when you feel like your boss has almost nothing good to say in the review? Does it mean not just that your work could be improved, but that your boss wants you gone?

Ask Before You React

If you're thinking on your feet during the review, you can ask a question or two to help clarify your situation.

For example, ask your boss to rate your overall performance on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is someone about to be promoted and 1 is someone about to be fired, suggests executive coach Debra Benton. Using a numerical scale "kind of takes the personalization out of the whole thing," says Benton, author of several books, including How to Think Like a CEO.

Put Negatives in Perspective

If you walk away from the review still worried, the first thing to do is to let it sit for a day or two.

"You may have fixated on one comment," says Richard Phillips, a career coach and owner of Advantage Career Solutions in Palo Alto, California. People tend to go into reviews listening for negative comments. And in addition, Phillips says, sometimes managers spend more time talking about the bad than the good, without putting it in perspective.

If, after rereading your written review, you still think it's overly negative, consider whether your boss is right about your performance. Perhaps there's a simple error on the review form, such as a misstatement of your sales numbers, for example. If so, the error should be easily corrected.

Keep It Specific

If you don't fully understand what your boss is unhappy about, ask for another meeting and request specific examples. If your boss says you need to be more responsive to coworkers' requests, for example, Phillips suggests asking what specific events prompted that comment, and how your boss would like to see you handle similar problems in the future.

The worst-case scenario with a review -- that your boss is saying you just aren't cutting it -- doesn't happen often. But if your boss really means you're not doing an acceptable job, then you need to ask yourself some hard questions to determine why.

If you have had good reviews previously, what has changed? Do you have a new boss with different expectations? Are you distracted by personal problems?

Weigh Your Options

"It may be giving you a true picture, but not something you want to hear," Phillips says.

It may be tempting to simply quit and look for a new job, but Phillips urges caution. It could be that you will need to find a new position -- if, for example, you have tried everything but just aren't clicking with your boss, or you have had more than one bad review. But rather than quitting immediately, it's often better to try to address the issues your boss has raised first.

"If you overreact to it, it actually ends up being harder in the long run," Phillips says. Your unhappiness about the review is likely to come through when you're interviewing for new positions. "It takes you longer to find another job, because you're out there maybe feeling a little resentful," he says.

Back to top