You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one. ~ John Wooden

The first advice: do not react on impulse!

Take your time, an hour or even a day or two. Go through carefully on what has been mentioned in the negative appraisal and write down the precise words (for example; which  tasks were not marked to your satisfaction, what were the goals you did not meet etc.) which you disagree with.

Here’s what you should NOT do:

  • Anger and resentment often tend to backfire especially when your reaction is negative.
  • An angry email or barging into the manager office will only do harm to your overall “employee rating” or rapport with the management/HR.
  • Try not to take in the criticism unreasonably (of course easier said than done, but since you are reading this tip, you can implement it too).

Get started on the cool-down phase now.

Some insights from Twitter chats on similar topic:

@dorieclark: Key to receiving negative feedback is not treating it like the end of the world. Just part of an iterative process #HBRchat

@CreativeSage Instead of defensiveness, listen & develop your empathy capability RT @jmass Don’t ask for feedback and defend everything you hear. #HBRchat


The second step: Cool Down and Get Ready

As a part of your research and cool down time you can also discuss this issue with your career coach, mentor or your colleagues (of course you may consider this confidential and discuss with only those who you feel more comfortable). Perhaps your co-workers have received bad reviews from this manager before and maybe it is his/her working style to see a better performance in employees (though not a good way for sure!). A second opinion and a second look might clarify things more than how you have been looking at it so far.

Read the tips below; they suggest on how to go on further once your research and documenting phase is over and hopefully your emotions are not as overwhelming as they were when you first went through the negative review.


Initiate further Meetings to Clarify Review

Contact your boss to talk to him personally on the performance review. Not over phone or Email but a face to face meeting is recommended to initiate clarifications on the review. In this review try not to be on the defensive and do not let emotions overcome you.
Before this meeting take time to carefully analyze the performance review you have received and also research on company’s policies on how to respond to bad performance review. Often organizations have a comprehensive HR webpage on the intranet, read company policies or don’t feel shy to contact the HR on tips on how to respond to the performance review.

(Suggested reading: What are Performance Reviews or Appraisals)

It is very important to first acquaint yourself with the review policies and process, prepare a list of points on which you were assessed during the review and compare with the goals and expectations previously set for you for the year.
Preparing in advance will make this meeting more meaningful and successful. Just a random discussion might get you nowhere – prepare and present facts during this meeting. Don’t arrange for this session in a hurry, think about the time you need to prepare and research for the details and then suggest a time frame to your boss to discuss the performance review. Keep in mind that it should not be delayed for a long time. Ask your boss if he is on vacation in the coming days or not, if yes, then schedule this meeting before he leaves for one.
Make sure that the boss is not in a hurry to end this meeting and getting ready to attend another one.
It could be your one last chance to change the review in your favor, prepare well beforehand.


Discussing with your Boss

Use good communication skills during the discussion with your boss.
Some tips on this crucial discussion with your manager:

  •  Make sure that there was no miscommunication towards expectations put upfront. Is the assessment / review based on the goals put forward at the beginning of the year, or were there some expectations you were truly unaware of? (See below for more details)
  • Defend your case logically and present written evidence in support of your argument, do not get emotional or agitated in such meetings.


Paraphrase the Accusations

Miscommunication is most often the cause of a bad performance review, it could be on your part your boss’s or comments through other managers which have filtered in the wrong sense to your immediate supervisor. Spend time with your boss to clarify the accusations and also ask for specific instances where you have been accused of negligence or poor performance. If your boss has written in the review of delayed project submission or under performance, do ask him to pinpoint the dates or the projects he/she is referring to.


Follow-up on the Meeting

If you and your boss are reaching arbitration on re-evaluating the performance review, ask your boss to schedule a quick follow-up meeting within a week or so. If your boss has agreed to change the performance review based on the discussion and facts you have presented so far, use your best persuasion and negotiation skills requesting him/her to incorporate positive feedback.


Don’t think of Quitting on one Bad Performance Review

Bosses come and go. Teams dissolve and the company reorganizations are very much possible. A bad review does not mean it is time for you to start looking for a new job. Analyze the situation and see if there are some valid points perhaps you can do your best to perform better next time. Else if there have been unjustified accusations and your meetings with your manager have not been fruitful so far, then reaching out more to the higher management and the HR could be a possible solution.
Just remember to be more proactive towards your career in future.


When to let it go

 Twitter chat insights:

@dorieclark: Important to understand how others see you; also important to know when to ignore them. #HBRchat

If you think you have been wrongfully accused and there is no way that your boss is ready to change or discuss the performance review, then think about the worst case scenario.
– What is the worst that can happen with such a performance review?
– What would happen if you just let it go?
If the answers do not bother you and you truly love your job, think about getting over it and trying to see the positive side – perhaps the others in your team have got worse reviews, maybe it is not you it your boss who just has to be a terrible critic at the workplace.

But definitely do not let it go just because you do not feel fighting back for what you deem unreasonable. Don’t let it go before a good discussion (not a fight!).
But be cautious of all consequences, if you cannot afford to be out of job or be in the bad books of management of HR re-think your steps towards the protest. It is a good idea to talk to your colleagues who have been in the company longer to find out if there were any actions taken against those who “revolted” against a bad performance review.