Stuck with a Bad Performance Review—Making It Worse

April 6, 2010

A bad review can be a temporary set back or it can be the beginning of a quagmire and drag you down. There is a lot on the line here—money, prestige, future prospects, so it is important to understand the consequences of your actions in the weeks following the review.

Regardless of the reason (Dealing with a bad employee performance appraisal) ,you are stuck with this review for a year. It is not the end of the world or of your prospects for a good career with the employer. The first impulse to change employers is never the best immediate option.

Career consultants have a lot of classical advice on how to get on track; People usually ignore it or cannot use it. The opposite approach is considered here. There are three actions that will make your situation worse. Watch yourself to see if they apply to you.


No doubt about it, you got an unfair deal. The reasons that it was unfair are specific to your situation. It may be that your work was not valued, your boss was out to get you, or that they don’t like your personal style. Make sure your side of the story is told so that you can be vindicated. Take opportunities to get the story out. Some people hedge on this and only tell “trusted” friends. Complaints can be made in e-mails to a few select friends.

Negative comments have an interesting way of making their way back to the managers. This news tends to harden their position that you are an underperformer. The opposite approach is to keep your negative opinions out of the light. If possible, even send messages that things are going to improve.

Take It Personally

Ouch. A lower than expected review hurts emotionally as well as professionally Don’t see the performance evaluation for what it is–an opinion about you that serves different purposes. The real way to make the situation worse is to take it as an attack on your personal self worth. This approach allows the hurt to fester and internalize so that the pain continues to renew itself. That way there is no opportunity to put the experience behind and move on. Eventually, a negative air occupies the space around you. Your energy will decrease. Your co-workers will notice it.

If you are having trouble moving on, talk to someone outside of workplace who can help you.

Stay the Course

Make no changes and hope that the situation rights itself.

Sure, some conditions improve on their own, such as a cold that runs its course in a week. Other situations just lead to more trouble. The odd sound from the automobile engine doesn’t go away. The situation is similar here. The bad evaluation is just the first noise; Your situation will likely get worse if you just keep plugging along. Just persevere and be confident that that management will see the error of their ways and reward you.

Don’t make the effort to calmly follow-up and understand what has to change from the arbitrary and unfair perspective of the bosses. Ignore the fact that managers like to see improvement and tend to reward it significantly in the next review cycle. If your boss cannot help you, actively seek someone who can. (Looking for a Teacher, Asking for a Boss)

Getting a bad review is like finding a footprint in newly poured concrete. You can ignore it and let it harden or do some work to smooth it over, with no long term consequences. It is a matter of the right efforts at the right time to minimize the effect of the review.


Advertising Zen

April 6, 2010

“A Zen Master was asked whether Zen should not be propagated to some extent in our times which are in such need of its qualities.  Would not more availability, some publicity, public sermons and the like be more useful?  His answer was both characteristic and a fundamental summing up.  He replied that, after careful pondering, he could not see any positive harm resulting from such propagation.  As to the good it would do, he was extremely doubtful.  For even if it did not go in by one ear and out by the other, even if it produced a sizable uplift, by the time the person had gone home and sat down to the family dinner, it would all be gone.  The real propagation, he thought, would be for the would-be propagators to settle themselves down and cleanse their own heart yet again.  For in doing so there springs up in the human hear such a deep fountain of love that it cannot possibly be contained in one’s own hear, but needs some flow.  And since everybody, even the worst criminal, has that same human heard which is directly touched by such love, words are really not necessary.  There is a coming into ambience, a touch, a link, and the person so touched may of his own volitions start walking the Way.”

The excerpt above is from The Wisdom of the Zen Masters by Irmgard Schloeal, a Rinzai nun who lived in England (1921-2007).   The book was published in 1976, New Directions Paperback (Quote from Pg 19).

It would be preferable to have a specific reference, but Schloeal does not identify the Zen Teacher, and after 30 years, it has not been traced.  Yet the view is helpful since it runs counter to many activities of organizations. It provides an opportunity to refresh our own perspective.