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Ouch! Here’s How to Handle a Performance Review That Stings

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10 steps for turning criticism to opportunity:

1. Control your reaction and your thoughts.
Thoughts lead to emotions and you want to react as unemotionally as possible. Tell yourself that this is constructive criticism. Resist the urge to argue, feel sorry for yourself or discount what your boss is saying. At the same time, keep a sense of perspective. It is human nature to let the bad outweigh the good. Don't let a few critical points outweigh 10 areas you've gotten praised for. Tell yourself this is a chance to determine what it takes to excel.

2. Listen.
Rather than respond to negative performance criticism with blame, excuses, or attacks, it's important to just listen. Your goal is to understand exactly what your boss is saying This is likely difficult for your manager too. Use active listening techniques to be sure you understand – repeat back what the boss has said in your own words and get confirmation that your understanding of the feedback is correct.

3. Ask questions to clarify.
Make sure you fully understand the review. Be careful not to take a challenging tone. Let your boss know you want to be sure you understand in what ways you have not met expectations. Request examples of how you could improve. Get guidance on what you can do to improve and what needs to be changed. Ask for suggestions for skills you need to improve and how you can do that.

4. Reflect before you respond.
Look for blind spots in your own assessment of your performance. It's difficult to be open to criticism, especially if you're accustomed to positive reviews. It's possible that you may not recognize yourself in the feedback. Ask yourself: "What might be right about this criticism? Have I heard it before?"

5. Express confidence that you can improve and motivation to excel.
Let your manager know that you are disappointed and prepared to work with him or her to meet and exceed expectations. Resist making excuses or offering explanations. Your goal is to be sure you understand expectations related to deficiencies. Agree on objectives and that they would meet expectations.

6. Ask for time to consider and respond.
Let your manager know that these deficiencies are a surprise to you, and that you would like some time to reflect on the feedback and to develop an action plan for meeting and exceeding expectations. Get a copy of the evaluation. Set a time for a follow up meeting.

7. Take a step back and look at the big picture.
Examine the reason for falling short—what you can control and correct. What do you need from your boss? Consider whether you are a good fit for the position given the expectations. Consider also the intent of your manager's feedback and look back on his or her body language and tone.

  • Did you receive positive as well as negative input?
  • Is this the first time you've received this feedback?
  • Are these developmental areas that will help you progress in your career; are they expressing a downward trend in your performance or is this a last chance ultimatum?
  • Is your manager fully aware of your contributions? Were there errors In the examples you received?
  • If you are confused about the intent, you can ask "Is my job in jeopardy?"

8. If you need to vent, do it outside the office.
You may feel the need to talk this over with someone you trust. If, so, resist the urge to discuss this in the office or with others who are managed by your boss. Be sure to choose someone who can be honest with you and let that person know you are looking for an honest viewpoint not just support.

9. Take the initiative to develop a specific action plan.
The purpose of feedback is to help you improve in your job, and that requires a detailed plan of action. Draft a written action plan that addresses each area. Include a timetable, specific action steps you will take, and how you can measure progress.
That may involve learning new skills, reprioritizing your tasks, or reevaluating how you come across to colleagues. Agree with your manager on what you need to do to succeed. Make an appointment to meet once a month or once a quarter so you can get feedback on how well you are succeeding. Ask "If you had to rate my performance at this point in the year, what would it be?"

10. If you remain totally convinced the feedback is unfair or erroneous, stand up for yourself appropriately.
Assess whether the feedback represents a difference of perception, or if there are instead factual untruths, errors, or key omissions. Know what you want to happen—what is the solution? Do you want some aspect of the written performance document changed before you sign it; will you sign it with objections? Do you simply want to be heard? Identify which items you disagree with or think are erroneous. Provide objective examples and evidence to back up your viewpoint. If all else fails, you may wish to speak with someone in the Human Resources office about your options. Be careful not to blame your manager, compare your performance to other employees or make an ultimatum.

Performance reviews provide an opportunity for you to understand what your manager expects and for you to get your manager's support for your professional development. Identify training opportunities for you that will benefit your manager and organization in the end. Boost your credibility and professional standing by becoming PACE certified. Join the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) if you haven't already—it's free. Take a look at ASAP's premier training event: the Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants' Summit. Sign up for ASAP's live webinars in development areas.

Performance reviews provide an opportunity for you to understand what your manager expects and for you to get your manager's support for your professional development. Identify training opportunities for you that will benefit your manager and organization in the end. Boost your credibility and professional standing by becoming PACE certified. Join the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) if you haven't already—it's free. Take a look at ASAP's premier training event: the Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants' Summit. Sign up for ASAP's live webinars in development areas.

American Society of Administrative Professionals

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