No one likes to get bad news and, as helpful or constructive as it may be intended, criticism can be difficult to hear.
When the boss gives a negative assessment of work or job performance, there are ways — short of quitting your job altogether — to try to create a positive outcome.
“First and foremost, you should try to take the time to understand where the negative feedback comes from,” said Piera Palazzolo, of New York City-based Dale Carnegie Training. “You can actually learn more from that type of feedback, if you really take the time to listen.”
As with most workplace interactions, Ms. Palazzolo said, good communication is crucial when trying to move on from a bad performance review. “Engagement research shows us that most employees point to their relationship with their immediate supervisor as the key to being engaged at work,” she said.
Part of that communication requires boss and employee to agree on what the goals or expectations for work are, and how they will be met.
Breaking down the feedback will mean trying to understand what you could do differently going forward, she said. Try to seek an open dialogue and an improvement plan that includes regular feedback from the boss, so if obstacles arise, they can be handled before they cause delays or other problems.
And as a manager, there are good ways — or at least, less bad ways — to deliver bad news.
“You should always start with a positive” when criticizing an employee’s performance, Ms. Palazzolo said. “Before you say, ‘This was due Monday and it was three days late,’ you should start with something like, ‘You have a great way of talking to people.’ And as a supervisor, you need to have specifics.”
Once you’ve told the employee what the problems are, suggest solutions, Ms. Palazzolo added. “You’re the supervisor; you have to be able to provide the support needed to thrive and succeed.”
For instance, rather than putting someone on the defensive about a failure to meet deadlines, ascertain whether the employee has too much on his or her plate, or if he or she is a perfectionist who lingers too long on a project. “You should be asking, ‘What can we do to help you meet deadlines,’ or be asking whether they need help with time management skills.”
If the negative feedback keeps coming despite efforts to change or adapt, it may be worth taking a step back to assess whether the problems can really be solved.
“If you are at a place where you have career growth and you like your job, even if your relationship with your boss isn’t perfect, you should try to make the best of it,” she said. “But if your boss is repeatedly negative and you’re not seeing opportunities to grow, then you may need to cut your losses.”
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a negative workplace situation, Ms. Palazzolo said, and it is hard to be objective in the face of criticism that can feel so personal. “If you can look past the bias and recognize maybe there is something there, maybe there are some performance issues, it will only help you in the long run.”
Kim Lyons: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1241.