What To Do when Your Annual Report Is Bad

Caroline Potter,

The annual review is the professional equivalent of the report card. And if you remember back to your school days, you'll probably recall anticipating its arrival with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Had you performed as well as you thought you did? Would tardiness or being too talkative affect your grades?

Workplace evaluations can evoke similar feelings. What if your worst fears become a reality in the way of a poor performance review? Read on for what one career coach believes you should do.

1. Remain calm.

Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, says, "First and foremost, breathe and relax." You may feel blindsided, but stay calm and take in what your supervisor is telling you without getting defensive. Focus on what you're being told -- you can even take notes. But save your rebuttals for later.

However, if your supervisor is getting angry or being unprofessional, you can try to steer the review to facts and practical information. Crawford, the founder of HallieCrawford.com, advises workers, "Tell your boss, 'I appreciate your candor, but I'd like to get constructive feedback that will help me improve.'" She adds, "You want her to know that you understand there's a problem, but assure her that your focus is solution-oriented."

2. Act, don't react.

If you're feeling defenseless and caught off guard -- or (and especially) if you're feeling angry -- try to buy some time to react to your review and answer criticisms. Crawford, whose practice is based out of Atlanta, believes professionals should request the opportunity to mull things over. "Explain to your manager that you'd like to take a day or two to develop a plan of action to address these issues," says Crawford. "The fact that you're willing to come up with solutions will get your boss on your side, as will soliciting ideas from her as to what you should do in the immediate."

3. Remember that perspective is subjective.

You don't have to accept every criticism of your performance as fact. In fact, you can dispute some parts -- if you do it with kid gloves. Crawford, a specialist in career transition and helping workers find their ideal jobs, says, "You've got to keep things civil and polite, but you don't need to roll over. Acknowledge the valid points of your review, but you can dissent by saying, 'There are just a few things that I have a different perspective on; this is what actually happened.'" Doing so will allow you to direct the conversation back to your point of view rather than attacking the quality of your evaluation.

4. Get real.

So, you've gotten a poor review and you may or may not agree with it. You now need to decide if you want to stay at this job or move on. If you love your job, it's worth working on things, even if you disagree with your evaluation, believes Crawford. "But," she adds, "most people have a gut sense that a job isn't a fit yet they've ignored that instinct." If that's the case, she believes in moving on to another opportunity.

She reminds workers, though, "Don't decide whether to stay or go from a place of fear. You need to come from a place of power and confidence in yourself. If you're afraid, you won't be able to make the best decision for your career."

5. Learn from your mistakes.

When you land at your next job, you may feel extreme anxiety about your first evaluation. You can prevent this -- and getting another negative review -- by opening the lines of communication with your manager from day one.

Crawford, whose book "Flying Solo: Career Transition Tips for Singles" comes out in June 2008, says, "You don't ever want an evaluation to be a big surprise! But you can ensure against that by asking for feedback often and checking in with your boss and coworkers." Find out how often you'll get an official evaluation but also solicit informal reviews after big projects. She adds, "People who communicate openly from day one on a job set the stage to receive feedback naturally. So be that person in the first place."

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