5 Ways to Bounce Back After a Bad Performance Review at Work

Take thoughtful and productive action instead of getting pissed. By Dr. Michael L. Bennett (Board-certified psychiatrist) & Sarah Bennett (Comedian writer) People respond to negative performance reviews the same way death row inmates respond when questioned about their culpability; everybody insists they're innocent and the wrong man got the rap. Sure, you may be more likely to reject a verdict if it will end your life, not just your job, but whenever we get publicly chastised for bad behavior our instinct is to defend ourselves and our decisions. When you get a bad review, your instincts may tell you to confront the reviewer and reduce its negative impact on your record and salary. Before calling up the Innocence Project to get justice, remember that the best way to keep your career alive is not avoid getting defensive. Unfortunately, most negative performance reviews are not the result of a misunderstanding or even a personal attack, but represent deeply held beliefs on the part of your boss and those close to him. Any critical protest that suggests they got it wrong will make your boss defensive. It will likely motivate your manager to document your past and future mistakes — to prove you’re the one who’s in the wrong. Instead, accept the fact that justice is probably impossible. Instead follow these tips to make the best of a bad situation so you can keep hope for your career alive.

1. Rally Your Troops

Reach out to your allies at work. Ask if you have the reputation, credibility and in-house relationships to overcome the negative review. If you've got a good group watching your back, you can be confident in your ability to reduce the review’s impact and bolster your job security until your can get transferred or your boss moves on.

2. Know Your Rights

Ask a lawyer whether your review appears well-documented enough to be used against you in a significant way, e.g., to put you on probation or fire you. If it’s poorly documented and appears arbitrary, could it be easily challenged if you need to buy time?

3. Explore Your Options

If you think your review is bad enough to mean bad news for your future at the company, do a job search and check your marketability. You need to know what your options are. Thinking about your value in the market is much healthier and more productive than ruminating about your boss’s reactions.

4. Respond without Rage

Without anger or snark, respond to the review using a standard complaint format. It's important to document these things for the record. Or, you can just wait it out. After all, this may blow over and your boss may be happy to target someone else next time. Don’t bog yourself down in conflict.

5. Show Your Commitment

After beginning with a positive statement about being a part of the team and the pride you take in producing good work, acknowledge how disappointed you are to learn that your boss feels your work doesn’t meet her needs and standards. Make it clear that, after giving her complaints serious consideration, you've found you don't necessarily agree with all her judgments. But you’re nevertheless determined to develop a better understanding of what needs to change and you sincerely hope she'll be more satisfied in her next review (should you stick around long enough to endure the process again). The worst thing you can do after an unfair poor performance review? Become angry, vengeful or unreasonable. All that accomplishes is… well, nothing. If you can use these steps to ignore the hurt, you can keep yourself from fulfilling your reviewer's expectations and instead fulfill your own.


About the guest blogger: Dr. Michael I. Bennett, educated at both Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, is a board-certified psychiatrist, Canadian, and Red Sox fan. While he’s worked in every aspect of his field, from hospital administration to managed care, his major interest is his private practice which he’s been running for almost thirty years. The author of F*ck Feelings, with his daughter Sarah Bennett, he lives with his wife in Boston.