Hearing critical feedback is rarely easy, especially in a performance review. At its worst, a poor performance review is blindsiding, hurtful, and magnifies our deepest feelings of self-doubt. Despite the discomfort, negative feedback can be a valuable reality check and opportunity for growth — if you let it be.
A bad performance review doesn’t feel good, but it doesn’t mean your career or life is over, or that you’ve failed on a moral or ethical scale. What’s more important than the bad review is how you move forward to regain your confidence and make any necessary changes. Here’s how to bounce back.
Reflect before reacting
Before doing anything, allow a few days to let the feedback sink in and don’t let whatever you’re feeling in the moment impair your judgment. Once you’ve done that, reflect on the feedback you received and try approaching the situation from your manager’s perspective. Does it sound similar to feedback you’ve received before, in your personal or professional life? Did your performance align with the KPIs you were evaluated on? If you’re struggling to be impartial, you should seek candid feedback from a friend or mentor.
Don’t confuse behavior and identity
It’s natural to feel defensive or personally attacked after hearing negative feedback. You have to fight these instincts, no matter how overpowering they feel. An emotional response to professional feedback will only make the situation worse. Even if you disagree, listen to your manager’s reasoning and stay civil.
Arguing with your manager isn’t going to get you anywhere, and neither is demonizing them and ignoring everything they had to say.
Don’t blame the messenger
The least productive method of handling negative feedback is rejecting it, along with the person who delivered it. From the outside, this is irrational behavior, but it’s surprisingly common. According to a recent multi-year study, people tend to distance themselves from those who provide feedback that is more negative than their self-perception. They reject their advice and prefer to stop interacting with them altogether.
Arguing with your manager isn’t going to get you anywhere, and neither is demonizing them and ignoring everything they had to say. Unless you’re already out the door, your manager is going to be giving your next performance review, so you might as well avoid making things harder on yourself.
If you’ve taken a few days to reflect and still don’t fully understand your review, reach out to your manager. You may dread another sit-down, but you’ll otherwise struggle to address issues you don’t fully understand. A brief meeting is also an opportunity to show your manager you’re committed to becoming a better employee.
Ask for concrete examples of what you should be doing differently, and tie it back to specific scenarios you’ll face in your role.
Make it clear you’re seeking honest feedback, not consolation or a confrontation. Ask for concrete examples of what you should be doing differently, and tie it back to specific scenarios you’ll face in your role. The more specific your feedback and instructions, the more capable you’ll be of making changes.
Charter a course and commit to change
Now that you understand where you need to improve, it’s time to create realistic goals and objectives to get there. Your goals might vary from developing new skills to being more mindful of your attitude, but each should include easily measurable objectives, so you stay on track.
Once you’ve developed these goals and objectives, share them with your manager and ask for feedback. Once in agreement, you’ll know exactly what you need to accomplish to improve on your next performance review. Depending on the goal, you can mention it to other coworkers and ask them to provide feedback on your progress (or lack thereof).
Maintain lines of communication
If you don’t already, schedule regular one-on-ones with your manager. Use one-on-one meetings to make sure your priorities are aligned, and you have the support you need. Don’t expect any momentous from one one-on-one to the next, but these short meetings are helpful in building positive momentum and regaining your confidence.
You can’t move past a bad performance review if you never move past the self-criticism and feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Remember that nobody is perfect, and negative feedback isn’t an assault on your character. You, like everyone else, have room to improve, and you’re fortunate enough to get the candid feedback so many employees want and never receive.
Nobody is perfect, and negative feedback isn’t an assault on your character. You, like everyone else, have room to improve.
Self-compassion and mindfulness are closely associated with a range of metrics for emotional well-being and can help you shift focus to your new goals and away from your past disappointments. If you’re struggling to forgive yourself, imagine a close friend or loved one had received your negative performance review. Compare how you’d treat them with how you’re beating yourself up.
Once you’re able to get over the sting of negative feedback, you’ll be able to set your mind toward improvement and continued personal and professional growth.