How to Deal with a Bad Review

If you have been having regular meetings with your boss, there should be no surprise comments on your performance review. If you have not been having regular meetings, and there are negative comments on your review, take time to think about them before defending yourself. Follow these tips to help things turn out better:

1. Probe. If your boss has something negative to say, calmly ask for specifics. Make sure you really understand what he or she is saying. Ask if it was a one-time occurrence or something that was continual. Is it something you have heard before, or is this the first time it is being brought to your attention? If you have never heard this comment before, it's okay to show surprise and mention that you are surprised that your boss never said anything until now. "Gee. I wish you had told me earlier so I could have corrected it."

2. Take to heart the negative comments that you agree with. Come up with an improvement plan. Have another meeting with your boss to discuss your plan and get his or her buy-in.

3. Learn how to manage your boss. Yes, it is possible to do this! After your review, meet regularly with your boss to make sure you are on track. When you think the problem has finally been resolved, ask the boss to write a note to your file. In the past, if you have been meeting with your boss only when you have a complaint or an issue for the boss to deal with, that's not good "boss management." You need regular feedback. If your boss has been giving you good, ongoing formal feedback throughout the year, it will be difficult for him or her to give you bad feedback at review time.

4. If, however, the review is wrong, ask for another meeting with your boss, state your case, and ask if the appraisal can be revised. Try to get your boss to change his or her mind.

5. If no changes can be made and you are convinced it is wrong, and it will be part of your permanent record, write a rebuttal. Do not repeat the negative wording on your review — that only emphasizes the bad points. Instead, focus on the good things you've done and how much you enjoy working there. That way, the reader sees a cheerful person who has done good things rather than a defensive, negative person who is on the ropes. For example, "I enjoyed working on the Mano project and put in 70-hour weeks for almost two months. I rallied the troops to also put in extra time to get the job done. In the end, the company made a large profit on something that initially appeared to be a disaster."

Most bosses are not good at performance reviews. They decide on the grade they want to give and then fill in the review to justify that grade. It is up to you to manage your boss, get regular feedback, handle negative feedback well, and wind up with a good review.

More from Career Coach:
• Time to Give a Performance Review?
• Tips to Help You Prepare for a Yearly Performance Review

Kate Wendleton is the president of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career coaching and outplacement organization. •