How to Turn a Negative Employee Review into Positive Growth

No one likes to receive a negative employee review. "Critical feedback can bring our worst fears and anxieties about ourselves into focus," says Monique Valcour, a management professor at the EDHEC Business School in France. "For most employees, work is a source of identity. This is especially the case for people who are strongly career-oriented. So when you get feedback that you're not being effective . . . it can make you feel that you're failing to be the person you want to be."

An employee review gives you the chance to make improvements

Though it may be hard to stomach, receiving critical feedback may actually be a gift. "A glowing testament offers no avenues for development. While it feels good to be lauded, people who value growth and development prefer to have some guidance about how they can improve," says Valcour. Here are her tips on how to handle the difficult news and make your employee review an opportunity for growth.

Don't get defensive. It's easy to fall into the trap of fighting back against the feedback. Instead, relax and really listen. "Ask for guidance and support from your manager on how to build your skills in the area that you are weak in," says Valcour. "Report back on progress. Show that you are committed to improving your performance, and thank your manager for his/her support in helping you do so."

Ask for specifics. It's hard to know where to begin if you receive broad criticism such as, "Your presentations lack punch. You need to be more compelling and persuasive." Valcour suggests that if you receive unclear or overly broad feedback, drill down and ask for examples so you can really understand what your manager is talking about. She suggests a follow-up along the lines of: "Could you give me some examples of times when you've seen me present persuasively and when I've been ineffective, so I can get a better idea of where I'm doing well and where I need to improve?"

Adopt a growth mindset. Citing the research of psychologist Carol Dweck, Valcour stresses the importance of having a "growth mindset" in which "people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates resilience and a desire to learn that is essential for growing from feedback." That's in contrast to a "fixed mindset," which says that you either have the talent or you don't. "You can cultivate a growth mindset by learning to recognize your fixed mindset's 'voice' when you hear yourself saying things like 'You can't do it,' 'Be careful; you don't want to look like a fool,' etc.," she says. "When you receive criticism, remind yourself that you are committed to learning and growing."

Create a sense of progress. "The most motivating psychological condition a person can experience is to feel a sense of progress at doing something that is meaningful," says Valcour, pointing to research by Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile. "To get the most out of negative feedback, you should reflect on it and articulate the ways in which it aligns with your own growth objectives." Valcour suggests creating your own curriculum of growth: "Are there people you can think of who might have valuable advice for you? Do you need a mentor? Are there some books or articles you could read for actionable knowledge? Training, massive open online courses (MOOCs), or other learning programs you might avail yourself of? Projects that you could get involved in at work or on a voluntary basis to give you a chance to practice and demonstrate the skills?" Making and implementing a plan will give you a powerful sense of forward momentum.

Using these strategies, you can turn a negative employee review into the ultimate growth opportunity.

What are common areas that employees should be looking to improve in? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor, marketing strategist, and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.


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