How to Deal with an Unfair Performance Review

Businessmen discussing performance

So you just had your performance review, and it was a lot, lot worse than expected.

Bad news and criticism can sting and will leave you feeling shocked, disappointed and defensive. You might even go into survival mode if you feel like you’re being personally attacked, blaming your mistakes on anyone but yourself in the hopes that you’ll get off with a clean slate.

But such an emotional response won’t get you far and it’s important to know that the feedback isn’t (usually) a personal attack but, rather, constructive criticism to improve your work ethic and skills for the job.

In order to avoid any awkward and weepy lash-outs in the aftermath of your performance appraisal, let’s take a closer look at how you can better handle the situation!

1. Take a Breather

When you receive negative comments, your instinct may be to give your critic a piece of your mind. However, in a professional environment, it’s best to sit back, take a few deep breaths and avoid saying anything you will later regret when you’re feeling less emotional.

2. Stay Calm

If you’ve just been told something you don’t necessarily agree with, take notes and let your manager explain their reasoning. If, on the other hand, you can see your boss is getting heated up, you should steer the conversation back to facts and practical information.

3. Don’t Act Up

In the past, I’ve witnessed colleagues react badly to a poor review by shouting abuse and causing a scene in front of the whole office. Obviously, this didn’t end very well for my former co-worker – who received a warning and a week’s suspension from work. From witnessing this slightly entertaining but dramatic outburst, I learnt that you should always remain dignified and to address any issues in a calm and professional manner – and behind closed doors!

4. If You Disagree, Say So

If you strongly disagree with a few points, you’re entitled to dispute them in a polite way. Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, agrees: ‘Acknowledge the valid points of your review, but you can dissent by saying, “There are just a few things that I have a different perspective on; this is what actually happened”.’ This will help you direct the conversation to your point, rather than offending the quality of your evaluation.

5. Learn from Your Mistakes

Maybe your boss has pulled you aside a few times on your tardiness but you chose to ignore him and are actually surprised to find it noted in big, bold letters on your annual appraisal. It’s probably time to learn from the mistake and make a conscious effort to listen to feedback and make the changes that are requested of you.

6. Come Up with an Improvement Plan

How do you respond to fair but unpleasant comments? You devise an improvement plan that will help you get back on track and become a stellar employee. It’s best to come up with your own ideas at first and consult your boss for their input – this shows that you’ve used the initiative to analyse areas where you’re lacking the skills and ways that you can improve.

7. Consider Talking to HR

If you feel that the comments, and their reasoning, mentioned in your review are unfair, you can, of course, speak to your HR department about this. If you feel like your boss is personally attacking you, take proof of other instances where they have been unjust along with you to back up your argument.

8. Analyse Your Review

After your review, you’ll be given the original copy of the appraisal form, along with your manager’s comments and will be asked to sign it and to return it to the HR department. It’s important to take at least a day to read your boss’s comments to see if the criticisms are in fact justified and you were simply offended by the feedback.

9. Ask for a Follow-Up Meeting

After careful analysis, if you feel like you need a face-to-face discussion with your boss, don’t hesitate to ask for a follow-up. This could be because you feel the criticism isn’t fair and you would like to discuss your concerns with them before taking it further, or because you want to create a plan of action so you can improve.

10. Form a Counter Case

If you can prove that your boss’s feedback is unfair, it’s time to gather all the evidence and form a counter case. For example, if your boss says that you lack time management skills, you can show that you do actually meet the deadlines you’re given by providing email examples and other concrete evidence. If you use a team-sharing board, meanwhile, this should show when you completed your tasks, which will be more than enough proof.

11. Ask for Help

If, on the other hand, you’ve come to the conclusion that the bad performance review is in fact valid, don’t be shy to ask for help. You might be lacking in an area that your boss excels in, like prioritising, for example. They can sit down with you and show you how to organise your work so you’re efficient throughout your working day.

12. Show Your Commitment

After receiving bad feedback, you’ll most likely have your back up and will probably want to quit. However, instead of adopting a bad attitude, you should show your commitment to improving yourself. You can even check in with your supervisor on a weekly basis to ensure you’re meeting the right requirements.

13. Set New Goals

After your appraisal, consider if there is something you want to accomplish by the end of the month? For example, if you work in sales, you might want to increase your target. Or perhaps you have your eye on a supervisor role by the end of the year. By setting and achieving goals, you’ll show your manager that you’re serious about your job and making a change to advance up the career ladder.

14. Get out of the Office

Once you’ve received bad news, you’re not going to be productive in any shape or form. In order to try and shake off the bad vibes, get out of the office and get some fresh air. This will help you return with a new attitude and a different perspective.

15. Ask for Ongoing Feedback

If you’re serious about never receiving a bad appraisal again, make sure you have an open line of communication with your manager and ask for ongoing feedback. This way you’ll be able to show a real interest in progressing, and your manager can’t save any nasty surprises for your annual get-together!

16. Be Consistent

When you’re trying to change your behaviour, it’s easy to slip back into your old ways – after all, old habits die hard. It’s vital to stay consistent and not give your boss the excuse to slate you. For example, you could be known as the office hothead, so be sure to keep your cool at all times, even if you don’t agree with the latest policy mentioned in the team meeting.

17. Plan for Your Next Review

Start planning for your next review by saving all email correspondence and evidence of your good work. For example, if you achieved the highest amount of sales in that week, make note of it. Or if you received good feedback from a client or supervisor, keep a printed record. By going into your review prepared, you’ll show that you mean business.

18. Explore Your Options

If you really can’t repair your reputation after a truly terrible performance review, it might be time to start looking for work elsewhere. Remember to take the time to perfect your CV and cover letter, and find a job that you know you will excel at.

A bad review is hard to swallow, but you need to remember that the whole point of it is to help you become better at your job. By following the correct steps, you can ensure that both you and your boss are happy by the time your next evaluation comes around.

Have you had a bad review before? If so, join in on the conversation below to share how you moved on from it…