No one enjoys a bad appraisal. But how should you react if you receive one? And what can you do if you think it is unfair?

How should I respond when my manager starts to deliver the bad news?
“The most important thing is not to over-react,” says Bobbie LaPorte, a San Francisco-based career coach. “Don’t get defensive and don’t respond emotionally. If you think it is undeserved, listen and take notes.”

Try to get a written copy and take time to consider your next move. she adds. “Say, ‘I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions. I’d like an opportunity to pull my thoughts together and come back.’”

What should I do next?
Robert Myatt, a director at business psychologists Kaisen, says: “We always tell managers to provide specific examples and make it clear that these form the basis for the feedback. If the manager is not doing this you need to ask them do so. This could also push them to find evidence that could refute their conclusions.”

You should also look at whether your performance goals are clear and whether they might have changed over the period because it is very easy for the goals you agreed to drift – especially if you are working remotely. “It is also worth asking if you have been ignoring the signs during informal performance reviews,” says Ms LaPorte.

You should also ask yourself how big a deal this is. Rosemary Smart of human resources consultants Penna says: “Understand the level of importance of this appraisal. Is it something that could affect promotion or bonuses or is your boss just going through the motions?”

What if I think it is unfair?
“You must let your manager know,” says Ms Smart. “They may say ‘You’re right, I was a bit harsh. Perhaps I got it wrong’. Lots of managers have no training in this area, and have to do 20-30 people. They may have had a bad day or you may have got into an adversarial situation.”

You may also have taken minor criticism to heart. But equally managers sometimes do mark people down for very bad reasons. If you believe this is the case and your manager refuses to budge, explain that you are going to lodge a grievance complaint in order to resolve matters; most organisations will have an HR process to deal with this situation.

What if there is merit in it?
“Get clarity in terms of the specific behaviours that are seen as negative,” says Mr Myatt. “Managers shouldn’t just cite examples, they should show a pattern. Getting to the root causes of the underperformance is the most useful thing you can do and the key to avoiding it in the future.”

Most important of all, develop self-awareness. “If the pattern of underperformance is very pronounced you might not be playing to your strengths,” says Mr Myatt. “You may need to change your environment or your job.”

Get alerts on Work & Careers when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article