How to Respond to a Bad Performance Review

A bad performance review, for most employees, is a baptism of fire that comes with various ramifications, such as pay deduction, employee demoralization, anger, resentment or even job dismissal. The review may be in the form of unpalatable comments on a formal evaluation exercise or verbal remarks by a supervisor or boss at work. Regardless, the way you respond to these comments could help deflate or inflate some of the tension occasioned by the negative review.

Listen keenly

The first instance is to listen attentively to what the performance reviewer is saying with a willingness to learn. Your body language is also crucial; assume a friendly and welcoming posture to indicate your willingness to listen to the comments. Avoid running automatic responses in your head while the supervisor is still talking; give him time to finish before responding. Seek for clarification by asking questions or rephrasing what he or she has said to ensure you get it right.

Avoid immediate reaction

The temptation to respond immediately while the boss is still talking is an irresistible one, especially when the comments are negative. This is ill-advised; you may fail to understand the true meaning behind your boss or supervisor’s review. You also come off as defensive and out of touch with your performance. Let the situation simmer down before approaching him for tidbits on how to improve. If you adopt any of his suggestions, inform him and credit him for suggesting them to you.

Record accomplishments and failures

Keep a record of past accomplishments and failures to enable you defend yourself using facts if required to do so. In response to the review, provide a breakdown of the failures and detail your roadmap to rectifying such mistakes; make him understand that you are focused on improving in your weak areas. You should also reassure him of your past accomplishments, improvements and future plans to contribute more to the company. The boss may have forgotten some of your achievements, and reminding him might just convince him that you still have a lot to offer.

Appreciate critique and defend yourself

After letting your boss finish his critique of your work, thank him for the comments, noting that it is constructive criticism to help you improve. Thereafter, if you disagree with the review, act professionally and calmly to defend yourself. Such a scenario requires you to have the facts that paint a picture in contrast to that portrayed in the negative review. Avoid taking on a subjective angle by bringing up co-workers and pointing out how they are preferentially treated. You will only come across as a cry-baby.

Send a ‘Thank you’ email

After the sit-down with the boss or supervisor, send him an email thanking him for finding time to discuss your performance with you as well as for the constructive criticism. Use this opportunity to once again outline your plans to improve your productivity. You could also ask for his suggestions on how you can become a better employee; it shows that you acknowledge the comments and genuinely wish to change. The email could be a written proof of your desire to improve, in case there is something more going on apart from a negative review.


Bad performance reviews do not have to feel like a knife to the heart. They are a wake-up call that your career path is deviating from its destiny. Understanding this will help you respond correctly to the negative review and help you get back in your boss’s good books.

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