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How to Manage a Devastating Performance Review

Perfection pressure is pernicious and real; and every young professional in the city will feel it at some point in her career. This can make receiving a negative review all the more devastating. Rest assured that you are not alone in dealing with career disappointment. Below are a few thoughts on getting through a terrible performance review.

How to Manage a Devastating Performance Review (Photo: iStockphoto)

Be honest with yourself
OK, so you just experienced the worst performance review of your professional life. It happens. It’s devastating, humiliating, and infuriating all at once but once the shock of it all dissipates, ask yourself honestly if you got what you deserved. Instead of blaming colleagues, the environment, or the “market,” hold yourself accountable. What rating would you have given you? How did your achievements measure against your objectives? Did you even define your objectives in the first place? Deep in your heart, you probably knew what was coming, expected the worst and got it. Now, pick yourself up, collect your pride and move on.

Recognize that feedback is a gift
A client recently told me a powerful story about the value of honest feedback (and I’m sure the review you just got had a lot of it!). On paper, my client had it all. Princeton grad, Wharton MBA and a 10-year prior career in finance now looking for the bigger and better. As an associate out of b-school, though, he struggled—a string of mediocre reviews over three years led to zero promotions, promotions he thought he rightfully deserved. It wasn’t until a wonderfully blunt manager sat him down one day and told him the plain and painful truth that my client needed to hear, which was that he sucked and added no value. If my client’s boss were grading his effort and productivity, he would have given my client a D. This level of honestly completely floored my client and jarred him to finally act. He had become lazy, complacent, and entitled; his career was on the brink of ruin. One year after that fateful meeting, my client bought that old manager dinner and thanked him profusely. Feedback is a gift, and saves careers, and perhaps what you are going through now will do the same.

Consider a career switch
Maybe you’re just not cut out to be what you think you should be doing (banker, lawyer, media rep, account exec, consultant) and the awful review you just got is testament to a change you desperately need. Accept the reality of a terrible review and identify potential alternatives to restore your sanity. Reviews are a great time for reflection—positive and negative—so take advantage regardless of how rotten you feel. Things can only get better tomorrow.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at


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