Performance reviews at work can be a frightening, nerve-wracking experience, especially if you find out during one that your supervisor isn’t happy with the work you’ve been doing. Even worse than the review itself, however, can be the days after it — deciding how to react to the things you hear during your review can be extra stressful if you’re worried that you’re next on the chopping block. Luckily, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach any performance review. With the right strategies, it’s possible to recover from the most brutal negative review or even capitalize on a positive one.
Behaving During Your Review
Have a list of items to talk about ready beforehand. No matter whether you’re given lavish praise or scathing criticism, your supervisor will want to see that you’re taking the process seriously. One great way to do this is to have a brief list of talking points prepared beforehand (either written down or memorized). No matter how bad things get, a smart boss will have respect for an employee that puts in the extra effort necessary to get as much as possible from their review.
- Two things you’ll definitely want to be ready to talk about are your biggest accomplishments and your biggest challenges — these topics of conversation can lead to valuable advice from your supervisor.
Be alert, upbeat, and ready to talk. Most reviews are a back-and-forth dialog between an employee and a supervisor, rather than a simple one-way lecture. You’ll probably be expected to open up about your feelings about your job, your successes, your struggles, and your working relationships with your other employees. For this reason, it’s best to show up alert, well-rested and prepared to talk all about your job. Try to stay focused on the conversation during your review — your review demands your full attention, so don’t let yourself daydream or lose track of the proceedings.
- For people who naturally get nervous before performance reviews, it probably won’t be hard to muster the energy necessary to give the appearance of being alert and focused. In these cases, however, you may want to take steps to ensure you’re not too jittery — avoid coffee, take deep breaths, and, if you can, get plenty of exercise the day before to keep yourself relaxed.
Be completely open. A job performance review is no place to be shy. Treat your review like a chance to be completely frank about any opinions you have about the job, whether they’re positive or negative (without being rude, of course). This includes opinions about your pay, your working conditions, your coworkers, and even your managers. You don’t get this opportunity very often — normally, employees are expected to be much more guarded. Keep in mind, however, that the supervisor giving the review has the opportunity to be just as frank about you.
- If you’re naturally shy or have a hard time talking about your closely-held opinions, it can help to practice talking about these points beforehand with a close friend or a coworker you trust outside of work. You may also want to try body language-based confidence-boosting techniques, especially straightening your posture, talking slowly, looking the person you’re talking to in the eye.These basic tricks can help you loosen up in a wide variety of stressful social situations, including those related to your job.
Be ready to discuss your role in the “big picture.” Most supervisors love when their employees have positive or insightful ideas about how they fit into the company as a whole. All companies want to be as cost-efficient as possible — they are always looking for ways to keep their costs low and get the greatest possible use out of their existing assets. Thus, showing that the work you do plays a role in the company’s continued success can help paint yourself as a valuable employee even if your job isn’t an extremely important one.
- This is something you’ll definitely want to bring up if you’re being heavily criticized during your review — showing that you understand what you mean to the company can tell your supervisor that the poor behavior you’re being criticized for isn’t a result of you not taking your duties seriously.
Be honest about what isn’t working for you. It can be stomach-churning to talk to a supervisor about problems you have with your job, especially if those problems have to do with their management style. However, since a performance review is likely one of the only times you’ll be directly asked about these things, it’s an opportunity you won’t usually want to pass up. Smart supervisors will appreciate polite criticism — they, too, have supervisors, and they want to be able to demonstrate that they’re doing everything they can to make their employees as happy and productive as possible.
- As hinted at above, a positive performance review is an especially smart place to bring up things that are making your job harder. A supervisor who considers you a competent, valuable employee is much more likely to take your problems seriously than one who considers your work sub-par.
React to criticism seriously but never angrily. Criticism is a very real possibility during your performance review. Nearly everyone has some aspect of their work that they can improve on, so try not to be offended or scared for your job security if you receive some gentle suggestions for improvement. Acknowledge the criticism and move on — don’t lose your cool, even if you think your supervisor’s criticisms aren’t particularly true.
- Note that there is such a thing as criticism that’s too harsh or personal for a job performance review. If, for instance, your supervisor insults you, makes inappropriate remarks about you, your family, or your personal life, or otherwise attacks you for something other than your work, hold your tongue during your review and contact your Human Resources department afterward to discuss your supervisor’s behavior.
Responding to a Critical Review
Consider your criticism objectively. It’s easy to feel personally offended by criticism during a job performance review. However, unless your supervisor attacked you personally (as described above), you have no reason to be offended. A performance review is meant to be a constructive exercise aimed at improving your work, not one aimed at undermining you or making you feel bad about yourself. The only thing being judged is your work, not you personally.
- If you’re having a hard time taking your mind off of the criticism you received during a difficult review, try using a technique called “Thought Awareness.” As you feel yourself getting angry, sad, or discouraged in the face of criticism, take the opportunity to think about your thoughts. Think about why you feel the way you do and critically observe your own stream of consciousness. By “getting out of your own head,” you give yourself a chance to react logically to your criticism, rather than reacting to the way it makes you feel.
Set reasonable goals for improvement. Once you’ve had a chance to calmly and objectively think about the criticism you’ve received, give yourself a few goals for improvement. These should be challenging, but completely within your grasp. Even more importantly, they should be sustainable — the sorts of things you can achieve consistently. They shouldn’t be the sorts of things you can achieve once but won’t be able to stick to — this can leave you looking even worse than when you started.
- The best goals are ones with definite, quantifiable goals, not those focused on vague self-improvement. For instance, if you’ve been criticized for showing up late to work, it’s much smarter to say to yourself, “I will go to bed at 11:00 PM and wake up at 7:00 AM every day so that I have plenty of time to make it to work,” than it is to say, “I will try much harder to make it to work on time.”
Get the help or training you need to improve. It’s possible that the criticism you received during your review was a result of you simply not having the skills necessary to perform well in your job. If your supervisor didn’t lay out a path for you to get this training, contact the Human Resources Department and ask them for guidance.
- If your company is interested in grooming you for more responsibility, take your initial criticism as a hidden compliment — training is expensive and a sign that your company is invested in your growth with them.
Look for opportunities to show your improvement. If your supervisor has seriously criticized your work, they’ll be looking for some sort of measurable improvement in the near future. Don’t let your hard work go unnoticed. Make a point to bring up your improvement during your next meeting or one-on-one talk and be ready to back up your claim with evidence.
- To make a great impression after being criticized during a review, make an effort to start “checking in” with your supervisor to discuss your progress. As soon as you’ve made some sort of accomplishment that demonstrates your progress, bring it up during your “check-in” session. For instance, if your boss originally brought up the fact that your level of output in terms of progress on your projects has been slipping, you’ll definitely want to mention when you finish your next project early.
Keep the results of your review to yourself. Usually, performance reviews are the sort of thing you’ll want to keep to yourself about. Like your salary, this type of information can lead to jealousy and hurt feelings if you’re too open about it. Don’t bring up the results of your review in casual conversations. Instead, only consider discussing your review with your family, your friends outside of work, and select coworkers you have a great amount of trust in.
- If, for some reason, you do need to discuss your results with others, be tactful. Don’t brag or joke about your results — you’ll never know how they’ll compare to your fellow coworkers’.
Move forward. Nothing can change the past, so don’t spend time worrying about it. If you continue to fume and wallow over negative aspects of a performance review long after it’s over, you won’t have the energy or focus to improve your work. Instead, once you have accepted the review (and, if necessary, have sought help or training), let go of the negativity. Look to the future, seeking out new ways to do your job better than before.
- It can be difficult, but try to keep a positive mood after a negative review. Being visibly sad or sullen on the job can reflect poorly on your work, making you look like an under-performer even if you’re taking other steps to improve your output. It can also call unnecessary attention to yourself, prompting your coworkers to wonder or ask about your sudden change in mood. Since supervisors know that their employees’ morale can affect the business’s productivity, this can get you in even more trouble.
Responding to a Positive Review
Take pride in your accomplishment. Congratulations! A positive performance review is something to be very proud about — it’s a sign that your supervisor is happy with your work and that your position is most likely secure for the near future. A positive review is almost always something you have to work hard to earn, so take the opportunity to feel good about yourself.
- You may even want to have a small celebration with your family and friends after a good review. This is a great idea, but be careful not to spread the word about your celebration among your fellow employees — this can hurt the feelings of people who didn’t get good reviews.
Look (and listen) for opportunities for continued improvement. Never stop trying to improve your work. Demonstrate your long-term dedication to your job by trying to improve even after you’ve been told you’re doing a good job. Remember that a positive review isn’t an invitation to take a break — rather, it’s a sign that your employer loves the work you’re doing and wants more.
- Keep in mind that, at most jobs, there are very real rewards to striving for excellence. For instance, if your supervisor only has one promotion to give to their employees, they’ll probably give it to the person that strove to improve their work, rather than one that was content getting mostly positive reviews.
Don’t neglect any minor criticisms you were given. A positive performance review doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% positive. Take note of any criticisms you do receive during your review and give them the same amount of attention you’d give the criticisms from a negative review. Supervisors love employees who aren’t satisfied with “good enough”, so look for opportunities to go the extra mile and earn a 100% positive review next time.
- In addition, it’s worth remembering that, at your next review, your supervisor will probably bring up these past criticisms. It can be very embarrassing to explain to your supervisor that you haven’t taken any action based on these criticisms, so don’t put yourself in this position.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t make the mistake of slacking off after you’ve been given a good review. This signals to your boss that your continued effort at your job is dependent on the level of praise you receive, rather than a result of your personal dedication. Over time, an employee who’s content to rely on past achievements to justify their existence can make a prime candidate for downsizing, so never stop setting (and meeting) ambitious goals for yourself.
- Once your review is concluded, begin to prepare for the next one. Use your most recent review as a guide during the upcoming months. Let your boss know in writing what steps you are taking to comply with his/her recommendations. Ask him/her to let you know about problems or complaints when they occur, rather than waiting until your next review.
- Be proactive and request positive feedback. If you feel that your boss or reviewer is only focusing on the negatives, ask for specific feedback on the things you are good at.
- If you’re given paper documentation of your review, never leave it where your co-workers might see it. Keep it in your purse or briefcase, not on your desk.
- While you’re being reviewed, don’t forget that you always have the option to review your job! Is it everything you expected? Are you happy where you are working? If there are needs you have that aren’t being met, use a positive performance review as a bargaining chip in your negotiations.
- Don’t lose your temper. If the things you hear during a review seem cruel, abusive, or really out of line, go to your HR department before you respond with your own anger.
- Performance appraisals are supposed to be about specific observable behaviors, not about personal issues. For example, “Jane was late 4 times during January of this year” is a fair complaint, but “Jane just recently had a baby, which made her late to work several times in January” is not — Jane’s decision to have a baby is independent of her performance at work.
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