If you have a performance appraisal soon and you’re nervous, you’re not alone. Performance appraisals are nerve-wracking for just about everyone. Managers dread giving them. Employees dread getting them. But still, they happen! Despite efforts to revamp the process and find a better way, annual performance appraisals are still an inevitable part of the corporate world. All we can do is try to make the best of them. 

But what if your worst fears are realized? What if that performance review is negative, and your manager is saying words you are both shocked and dismayed to hear? It can happen. Research shows even the highest-performing employees can get negative feedback—and be devastated by it. 

As the saying goes, however, it’s not how you act, it’s how you react. So be ready to react appropriately should you get feedback that’s less than stellar this year, and turn that negative into a positive. Yes, a positive: A poor performance review can be an opportunity for you—as long as you handle it correctly. When you can go into your appraisal with the right frame of mind, carefully consider what you hear, and take action to respond to or act upon that criticism, you can turn that review around so that it ultimately leads you to a better place in your career. 

To be ready to make the most of any negative feedback you might get, follow these nine tips:

  1. Go into the meeting with an open mind. You’re setting the tone right from the very start if you walk in willing to hear whatever your manager has to say without having a knee-jerk reaction to it. That’s not to say it won’t bother you to hear something you don’t like. Criticism is hard to take, and it’s only human nature to take the criticism personally, especially when we see ourselves as trying so hard to perform well at work. But be open to it and be ready for it so that you can react in a professional manner. Practice a few neutral responses ahead of time if you’re concerned you’ll hear something negative and you don’t trust yourself to handle it well. This is particularly helpful if your manager is lacking in communication skills and might deliver negative feedback in an unnecessarily harsh manner.  

  2. Take it with a grain of salt. Almost half of human resources professionals surveyed think these types of reviews fail to provide an accurate appraisal of an employee’s performance. If you remember that these appraisals don’t necessarily need to be completely accurate, you’re less likely to over-react in a defensive way if you don’t like what you’re hearing. The criticism might be spot on, or it might not be. If you take it with a grain of salt, you’ll react more calmly at the outset and buy yourself some time to consider the feedback objectively later. 

  3. Accept that it could be very good for you. Negative feedback could be an indication that your manager sees you’re capable of more than you think you are, and that push can be good for your career in the long-term, challenging you to move out of your comfort zone. Almost all employees responding to a survey question about negative feedback agreed that it can help to improve performance if delivered appropriately. And if it’s not delivered appropriately, having an open mind and taking it with a grain of salt can help. 

  4. Recognize that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to get a bad review. If you only get glowing reviews from your manager, that might be an indication that he or she isn’t really paying attention. No one is perfect. Look at the feedback as a way to become aware of weaknesses that you’re blind to, and be grateful your manager is paying attention to your work—even if it’s not in a way you’d like. 

  5. Take some time to consider what was said. Your first inclination might be to feel hurt and make excuses, and maybe at first that’s okay as a natural reaction. After that however, you need to seriously consider the criticism and find the truth in it. If you’re still unclear about the negative feedback after taking time to objectively think about it, ask for a follow-up meeting with your manager to discuss it. Ask for more information, or for a specific example of a time when you exhibited the behavior in question. It very well could be that your manager was missing some vital information, misreading a situation, or taking another employee’s input at face value without questioning the validity of it. Or maybe you misunderstood expectations or timelines. Don’t go into this meeting with a confrontational or defensive attitude, but with a willingness to explore the issue and either learn from it (if it’s true) or clear it up (if it’s not). 

  6. Take the initiative to improve. Once you understand the reason for the negative feedback, plan to do better. Simply saying you’ll do better is unlikely to bring about a change. You’ll start out with good intentions, then quickly slip back into old patterns and behaviors, or forget about the goals altogether. By establishing a plan of action, you’ll have measurable goals and set timelines to keep you focused on improvement. If your manager isn’t part of this conversation, share the plan with him or her after you’ve developed it, both to get feedback on it and to demonstrate your willingness to take action and improve. 

  7. Be honest with yourself if it’s your skill set that’s called into question. Lack of technical depth is one of the top 10 reasons for a poor performance appraisal. If you suspect this could come up during your appraisal, or it did, look into expanding your capabilities through online learning. Discover the courses or certifications that can fill that skills gap, and share with your manager your plan for pursuing this additional training. 

  8. Ask for more regular feedback moving forward. If negative feedback caught you off guard, ask your manager to give you feedback on a more regular basis. This might help you avoid a negative review in the future as you get input more often, but it can also increase your level of engagement at work, which will lead to a better review next time. Research shows 43 percent of highly engaged employees get feedback at least once a week. 

  9. Use it as a catalyst for change. If you’ve been in denial about your lack of satisfaction with your job, consider whether this negative feedback is a result of your attitude. Maybe you’re in a position or company that simply isn’t a good fit for you. Perhaps you’re not doing the work you want to be doing, or you were promised opportunities for advancement when hired and those opportunities failed to materialize. If this is the case, then use the negative feedback to do a self-assessment of where you are in this job at this company at this time. Consider earning a certification and expanding your skillset so you can transition to a job that is a better fit—and more likely to lead to better performance reviews. 

How Learning New Skills Turns a Review Around 

As mentioned above, even the highest performing employees will get negative feedback on occasion during their performance appraisal. It’s not the bad review that’s at issue, it’s how we as employees choose to react to the feedback, and the best way is to turn the negative into a positive. 

After a poor performance review, employees motivated to turn that feedback around tend to take one of three approaches: They try to prove their competence, avoid tasks they’re not up to, or take the initiative to learn and develop new skills. The most effective employees are those who take the third approach, using negative feedback as a catalyst to push themselves to learn and grow in their jobs and their careers—an approach that will serve them well for years to come. 

It’s an easy approach to take in this day and age too when online certifications from quality providers are easy to find and built to fit into the busy schedules of working professionals. Courses and certifications like those offered by Simplilearn teach current technologies and best practices with an emphasis on hands-on learning that makes lessons immediately applicable. 

Given that availability of quality online learning, just about every employee has the option to turn a review around, from a criticism that was hard to hear to a jumpstart to an improved career. 

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