How to Respond to a Negative Work Performance Review

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Having the right attitude in the workplace can make the difference between being an average employee and a successful professional. No matter how good you are at your job, you lose respect from management when you cannot accept constructive criticism. Employee reviews can be stressful; it is human nature to react defensively when we feel misunderstood or when our goals are blocked. With a bit of preparation, proactive strategy and a positive attitude, you can make a disappointing work review to work for you, rather than against you.

How to Respond to a Negative Work Performance Review

Come prepared to evaluations and follow-up meetings. Mentally prepare for all possible outcomes: Envision how you will react in each situation. Make a note of your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Should your personal assessment reveal areas that warrant criticism, you can meet that criticism with a positive attitude.

Listen carefully for both the verbal and nonverbal cues provided during your appraisal. Determine if the criticism is constructive or negative, and balanced with positive feedback. Consider the workplace culture: Does your employer use employee reviews to facilitate growth and communication, or do bad reviews mean job loss? Request clarification on issues you do not understand. Dig for more understanding; knowledge is power.

Assert your personal power with a confident attitude. Introducing your achievements can help to keep the focus positive for both you and the reviewer, when negativity escalates. Graciously accept responsibility for weak areas, and do not defend yourself. Responding with a positive attitude under pressure shows you are a professional and gains respect.

Transform constructive criticism into a tool you can use to improve weak areas. Inquire into ways you can improve your job performance: Request new opportunities for training and improvement to demonstrate your desire for continual learning. Create a plan demonstrating your commitment to growth, and follow up with your manager outlining your plan. Use your work review as a learning experience about yourself and your employer.

Consider following up with a request for resolution when the review is clearly unjustified. Asserting yourself with a positive attitude is the primary objective, but sometimes you have to get more assertive. “A lot of genuinely nice guys need to know to know how to flash a little fang when they need to. There are times when you have to growl”, says Maggie Craddock, President of Workplace Relationships, Inc.

Do not lay all your cards on the table right now. State politely that you need more time to look over the appraisal. Take some time to think over the meeting before preparing an appeal.

Prepare an appeal. Document everything from the meeting onward as evidence. Gather work documents to help support your case. Prepare a self review and submit it along with your supporting documents, or simply use it as a tool for personal growth. Consider the work culture when deciding whether to approach a manager directly or whether to submit your appeal to the human resource department.


Constructive criticism is expected during many employee reviews, while negative criticism usually comes as a surprise. Constructive criticism is outlined with clear examples, while negative criticism is vague and unsubstantiated. Determine which type of criticism was offered, and whether it was balanced with positive feedback.


Employees fit differently into many types of work cultures. If it seems you cannot make the “fit” despite your hard work and polished work ethic, consider seeking out a better fit where your contributions are valued.