For some of you, the past year may have been difficult. Maybe you went through a divorce. Maybe your mother or father passed away. Maybe your spouse or child was diagnosed with a serious illness. Or maybe you just spread yourself too thin by tackling that major kitchen remodel yourself, or taking on that part time job to buy that 1964 Mustang you’ve always wanted. 

Whatever the challenge, it’s led to a few problems at work. You wouldn’t say you haven’t fulfilled your duties, but yes, your supervisor did have a few talks with you about being late, and there was that argument you got into with a coworker over who was responsible for missing Mr. Smith’s treatment. But all in all, you figure you’ve done okay.

Now that it’s time for your annual performance review, though, your nerves are on edge. Your palms are sweaty as you shut the door behind you and sit down in front of your department manager’s desk. You brace yourself for what you suspect might not be the best review of your life.

A bad review is never good, but what you do next can make the difference between a brighter future ahead or one that spirals out of control. Here are five tips for making the best of a bad performance review:

  1. First and foremost, don’t overreact. That’s hard to do, because any time we’re challenged we just naturally want to defend ourselves, but mounting a counter offense will only make a bad performance review worse.
  2. The better tactic is to listen as calmly as you can to what your supervisor has to say. Don’t interrupt. And don’t let your own thoughts take over either. Concentrate on what your supervisor is telling you so that when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll have a clear idea of how to respond. You won’t be able do that if your mind is racing out of control with comebacks the whole time she’s speaking.
  3. When it is your turn to speak, address the issues your supervisor brought up in a way that you believe your supervisor will find appropriate. For example, if your persistent tardiness is one of the items she addressed, don’t ply her with excuses, even if you really believe you had some valid reasons for being late. Instead, let her know you recognize the need to be on time for your shift, you realize being late means one of your coworkers will have to cover for you, or worse, one of your patients won’t receive a necessary treatment on time, and then apologize for the inconvenience your tardiness has caused the department.
  4. If your supervisor’s negative comments are vague or pertain to an issue you don’t completely understand, ask for clarification. For example, if he mentions your “poor communication skills,” don’t be afraid to ask him to cite specific instances when you failed to communicate properly. Only by truly understanding where you went wrong will you be able to correct the mistake and move forward.
  5. Once you feel you have a good understanding of the deficiencies cited during the review, express your desire to overcome those deficiencies and ask your supervisor to help you make a plan for remediation. Then as hard as it may be, thank your supervisor for pointing these deficiencies out to you and let her know you are going to do your best to improve.

Taking criticism in stride isn’t easy for anyone, but your supervisor will think more of you if you do. Most importantly, follow through on your goals for improvement. That’s the best way to ensure your next performance review goes better than your last.