Getting a bad evaluation can feel like the end of the world. But it doesn't have to be. If you stop, take stock of the situation and remain...
Getting a bad evaluation can feel like the end of the world. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you stop, take stock of the situation and remain calm, there are steps you can take to limit the damage and prevent getting sandbagged again.
Here are some ways to control the fallout:
• Keep your cool. Avoid shouting, sobbing or cursing, no matter how insulted you feel or how ridiculous and vindictive the evaluation seems.
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“Even if you are blindsided, stay calm, keep breathing and listen,” says Peggy Klaus, a communication and leadership coach in Berkeley, Calif. “If you are so stymied you can’t talk or so angry you might say something you regret later, say something like, ‘This comes as a huge surprise to me. I need some time.’ “
• Context, context, context. Remember, what you consider to be a bad evaluation might not be.
Some companies require managers to list areas for improvement to help employees set goals.
In other cases, evaluations might be more about bureaucratic paper shuffling than employees, and your boss’s unenthusiastic review might reflect a lack of time more than anything else.
“My experience is that for the most part evaluations are routine and make very little difference. They tend to have the biggest effect for newer employees who are still breaking into the system and may still be on a probationary period,” says Robert Kelley, a professor at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
That might mean a 23-year-old should be more concerned about an unsatisfactory evaluation than a 33-year-old who has been with the company for years and has a broad network of contacts within and outside the company as a protective buffer.
Still, you should never ignore a bad evaluation.
Your reputation is still on the line and, in many companies, evaluations are used as a basis for raises — so your paycheck could suffer.
“Whenever you get negative feedback you should take it seriously; you might have a blind spot. So even if you don’t file a response, seek out other opinions from a mentor or a valued co-worker. Sit down with them and ask them to be honest about your performance,” Kelley suggests.
• Talk. Write. Respond. If you think your evaluation was unfair, it’s important to let the evaluator know.
Be prepared to discuss the evaluation point-by-point to show you are a valuable worker.
Make printouts of any glowing e-mails from clients about your work, or other positive feedback.
Mention the crucial role you played in an important project, or the leadership you displayed in spearheading an initiative.
• Be confident but realistic. “This is an opportunity for a dialogue,” Klaus says. “Have a list of obstacles you’ve overcome, accomplishments you’ve made and areas you need to improve on.”
Kelley suggests asking your boss what you need to do within a specific time frame — a month, six months or the next year — to get a higher rating on your next evaluation.
“Make them be as concrete as possible, not just you need to make more effort,” he says.
“So a year from now you can document, ‘Here’s what you said I needed to do, and here I have done it,’ ” the professor says.
• Write it out. If your boss won’t budge, consider putting together a written response to be placed in your personnel file.
That response can be extremely detailed, or simply a brief note saying you disagree with the evaluation and would be willing to discuss it as appropriate.
Make sure you include any relevant documentation, such as the materials you gathered to showcase your work.
One caveat: You probably should assume that anything you put in the file is going to be accessible to other people in your company.
• Take it higher. Go above your boss’s head, but only after considering the risks.
Of course, if you believe your evaluation was discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate or illegal, you should go to your human-resources department or your manager’s boss.
Even if you’re in the right, be prepared for the worst.
“You should have things lined up to leave. Most companies are going to protect their managers,” Kelley warns.
• Learn your lesson. Keep a current, running file of your accomplishments and accolades and update your boss and other managers on your progress throughout the year.
If you’re feeding this information to your boss all year long, there’s no surprise at the end, Kelley says: “When he or she is doing your evaluation, they will have all of this information in front of them to consider and put together.”