how to survive a performance counseling meeting

You thought everything was going fine at work, but your manager just pulled you into a meeting and told that she has serious concerns about your work. Or maybe you’ve sensed for a while that your manager wasn’t happy with your work, and now you’re hearing details. Either way, what should you do when you hear your performance isn’t up to par?

Here are eight keys to surviving a performance counseling meeting and coming out okay on the other side.

1. Listen. Your mind might be reeling, especially if you didn’t see this coming, and you might be anxious or even panicking. But the most important thing you can do in this meeting is to stay calm and listen to the feedback – because understanding your manager’s concerns will be key to being able to resolve them.

2. Don’t get defensive. It’s human nature to want to defend yourself against criticism. But focusing on defending yourself can keep you from hearing and processing what your manager is saying. Even if your manager is wrong, you need to understand her concerns, because your job security depends on how she views your work. Moreover, getting defensive will generally make the situation worse; your manager is looking for signs that you’re hearing her feedback and will be able to act on it. If you’re solely focused on fighting it, she’s likely to become worried that you won’t be able to make the changes she’s asking for.

3. Ask questions to make sure you understand what you’re being told and what you must do to improve. If your manager has been vague, ask her to help you understand the issues by giving you a specific example or two.

4. Show that you’re taking it seriously. Responding with a brusque “okay” and nothing more makes it look like you’re just interested in ending the conversation. Instead, show that you’re taking the feedback seriously, by using language like, “I’m glad you’re telling me this. I hadn’t realized this was a concern and I’m glad to have the chance to work on it.” Or, if you can’t stomach that, at least say something like: “I want to take some time to think about this, but I appreciate you telling me.” Responses like this can change the nature of the meeting, diffusing any adversarial feel and making it more collaborative.

5. If you genuinely disagree with the feedback you’re hearing, and you’re sure it’s not just your ego getting in the way, it’s okay to share that. But how you say it and what tone you use will be key. For instance, you might say: “I hadn’t realized it was coming across that way, so I’m glad to know. From my perspective, it seems like _____.”

6. Be honest with yourself about the feedback. As difficult as it might be to admit, is there truth to your manager’s feedback? What factors do you think have been causing the problems? Understanding this will be important in figuring out how to move forward.

7. Set out a plan. Tell your manager what you plan to do to address her feedback, even if it’s as simple as, “I’m going to take some time to think about this and figure out how to resolve these issues.”

8. Thank you manager for the feedback. Yes, really. Thanking your manager may be the last thing you feel like doing right now, but remember that it’s far better to be made aware of your boss’s concerns than to be blindsided by them one day when it’s too late to fix them. Repeat as needed: “I appreciate you talking to me about this.”

And remember, it’s not the end of the world to receive critical feedback. Most people have, at some point in their professional lives, been told that they need to do something different or better. Only a very small percentage of those conversations ended with the person losing their job. So listen, be receptive, and try not to let your emotions get in the way.

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryce*

    Another gem! Keep up the good work.

    One thing to keep in mind is that it’s actually a good thing that you’re having a performance counseling meeting. That’s because first, many managers would rather roll around in broken glass than have these conversations because they often don’t care, don’t think it will work, don’t know what to say, or think it will make matters worse. And it goes without saying that it’s far better to know that you need to improve and what you need to do, or at least know that it’s time to look for a new job.

    That said, when do you think you should take such a discussion as a sign to consider updating your resume?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Sure, but I’m guessing what Bryce is asking is “When should someone interpret this kind of meeting as a sign that they are likely to lose their job?”

        1. Mrs Addams*

          If the manager’s any good, she’d let the employee know that their job is potentially at risk so that the employee doesn’t have to take any cues or interpret anything. That said, good managers like that are hard to find at times. Personally, I would take the initial “we need to talk about your performance” conversation as a cue to beef up the resume and start looking around.

          1. Good_Intentions*

            Mrs. Adams:

            As someone who was “let go” this morning, I will second your recommendation to take the “we need to talk about your performance” discussion as a sign to begin a job search.

            Silly me, I thought a general warning meant that you had a few days. After only four weeks on the job, I was fired first thing Monday morning.

            I should have read the figurative tea leaves a bit closer. Oh well, you live and you learn.

        2. Anonymous*

          YMMV, but at my company the line seems to be “is there something in writing?”

          If the manager is having a talk with that person and laying out what needs to be improved in a conversation, that means “I’m going to give you a chance to work this out.”

          But if there’s a memo detailing in writing what needs to change, then the decision has already been made, and unless that employee makes a 180-degree turnaround, the probation period will end in the employee being let go.

        3. Jessa*

          The problem is with some companies these meetings are genuinely an attempt to keep someone and for some it’s an attempt to document to get them out the door and sometimes if you don’t know the culture well it’s hard to tell which. Is there a way to tell?

          1. Ruffingit*

            I don’t know that there’s really a surefire way to tell. A lot depends on the culture of the company. Are they a place that has given others a chance to improve when issues have been noticed? Is there an employee handbook outlining disciplinary procedure? Is the boss the type of person who has previously shown herself to be genuinely interested in the development and growth of employees? And so on.

            It just really depends on the individual boss/company. My personal default setting would be that performance meeting = put our your resume just to CYA and then do all you can to turn your performance around at the current job. That way, if you do get fired, you’re ahead of the game in having polished the resume and put it out there. If you don’t get fired, you still have a job. Win-win in some respect.

    1. KellyK*

      When I would start looking:
      -If either you don’t think you can meet the bar or you get some indication that your boss doesn’t think you’ll be successful
      -If you can’t get a clear idea what specific things you need to do differently (either because the feedback is vague or very subjective or because you just don’t know how to fix the problem)
      -If you get the feeling that the meeting is a formality for documentation’s sake

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agree with all these. Also, if your manager says or hints that without improvement, your job would be in jeopardy. (Not everyone will say it outright, although they should — but if they do, that’s a definite sign to continue to try to improve, but meanwhile start building other options for yourself.)

        1. Catherine*

          Thank you for saying this. My last manager only stated that in the future without improvement, we would be having a “not so nice conversation.” As a new graduate in my first job, the of clarity left me very uneasy.

    2. Vicki*

      “many managers would rather roll around in broken glass than have these conversations ”

      Oh, they have them. They’re just not “counseling” meetings. They’re “Annual review meetings”. And the “issues” may be up to a year old.

      1. Anonymous*

        Truth! I never hear about ANY issues or even get any clue anything is wrong until my review.

        Useful! (NOT.)

      2. An-dre-a*

        God, how I hate it when Annual Reviews are used as guerrilla warfare against employees. How am I to respond to a mistake I made 8 or 9 months ago? From what I can see, such reviews are to keep raises down, not because of any real problems. Good managers don’t wait a year to address real issues.

  2. Coelura*

    Listening without defending is so very difficult, but also crucial to understanding the manager’s concerns.

  3. The IT Manager*

    This is the kind of advice you need to keep in your hip pocket because so frequently this kinds of events will be a complete shock.

    Alison’s recommended phrases are great, but you have to at least remember the gist to get it out. I would definately tend to be in the “okay” only group because I would be in a rush to get out of that meeting.

    1. SJ*

      I agree, I’ve been blindsided by some of these meetings in the past… you might think you’re doing a great job, and still find yourself in this position. Better to be prepared just in case!

    2. Anonymous_J*

      Yup. That’s me, too. I try really hard not to do that, but when you don’t agree with what you’re hearing, or the manager’s not clear/is vague, it’s really hard to come up with a “thank you for…”

  4. AnonyMouse28*

    I love this article, and wish I had seen it before my last performance review (especially #5). I sat down for my review earlier this year with my metrics in hand, having doubled my own productivity (compared to the previous staffer in my role, who’s position I had inherited) and improved internal procedures that reduced departmental turn-around by a significant amount (I should add that I’m likely the only staffer who actually keeps track of their metrics/improvements, because I’m in a creative and laid-back industry, so it’s possible my supervisor just didn’t know what to do with my notes) and expected to get exceeds expectations in at least one area. I didn’t–instead, I got “meets” across the board. I didn’t know what to do at the time except to ask: “What can I do to exceed your expectations?” to which they responded: “Well, ‘meets expectations’ isn’t bad!”

    It’s caused this low-grade resentment that I can’t shake, given how hard I’ve worked above and beyond my job description; I wish I knew what to do to resolve this (other than update my resume, anyway…)

    1. Anonymous*

      The key is understanding the philosophy and context of your evaluation. Many evaluations are graded relative to a definition. For example, meets=hit your performance measures while exceeds typically =exceeding your measures and doing higher level work. But that’s not enough. You need to understand what else (especially things beyond your control) might impact your evaluation rating/score. For example, a tight budget with evaluations tied to it may mean ratings get bumped down because there’s not enough money. Or, some orgs subscribe to stack ranking. This usually means there should be a certain percentage of high, mid, and low scoring evaluations. Frustrating as it may be, at least you can decide if you agree or accept with the philosophy instead of being forever pissed of about it.

        1. AnonyMouse28*

          Thanks for the thoughts! No stack ranking here, and raises aren’t typically tied to performance reviews in our company. I’ve discussed this with other staffers and I’ve received confirmation that it’s fairly typical for a solid employee to get one-to-two “exceeds,” so it’s tough not to take this personally, I admit. I’m not willing to be ‘forever pissed’ about it, though. Either I can figure out a way to resolve this in a positive way with my manager (hopefully by getting some advice here!), or I leave–I’m not really the type to stew without action, y’know?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I am chuckling. I worked one place where people routinely LIED about how their evals went.
            My advice to you would be to say that to the boss- “several people mentioned that they got one or two exceeds expectations. How often do you find that people do exceed expectations?”
            I have done this and the answer is sometimes surprising.

            Or you can take a higher road and say “Boss, I want to get ‘exceeds expections’ on my next evaluation. What will it take for me to get there?” That could be interesting- he might say “Do X” and you point out “Boss, I did do X.” It could be that the boss just missed a point and once you speak up he is willing to correct his rating.

            My final thought, it is something that I have seen over and over. A company rates people on a scale of 1 to 5. No one ever gets a 5. (This is too bizarre.) So, the employee expects to see a bunch of 4s and ends up with a bunch of 3s. Maybe you have a company like that on your hands.

            Not all compensation comes in our paychecks. A few atta-boy’s or nice job’s go along way. Personally, I am a softy for a boss that says thanks once in a while. I see reviews that show me as an average worker, I start thinking about moving along. Simply because I feel that my contribution is not being noticed.

            1. Lindsay*

              My manager at one of my past jobs yelled at me for ranking an employee too highly in several areas. She was one of those, “You never give 5s because that means there is no room for improvement and there’s always room for improvement.”

              I viewed my evals as a sort of bell curve with a 5 being top 1%, 4 being top 25%, 3 being average, 2 being below average but not being in danger of being fired yet, and a 1 being in immediate danger of being fired and usually already on a PIP.

              And, well, this was the best employee I had had in my 10 years there and he was probably capable of doing my job as well and I was. So 5s it was.

              When she pushed back on me I pushed back on her and the issue got dropped. But I thought it was stupid.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I think you’re going to have to let that feeling go. It’s not going to do you any good to be resentful, and eventually it will color your interactions and performance. It may be that the ratings system your company uses doesn’t do many exceeds for statistical reasons–I could swear I saw posts on here about that happening at other companies.

      If you want to address it with your manager, maybe ask for a meeting with her to see if she can suggest anything–your question right then may have caught her off guard. Tell her you want to make sure you’re doing the best job you can and ask if there is anything you can learn, take over, etc.

      1. AnonyMouse28*

        I’m thinking of scheduling a mid-year “check in” since it’s about that time, so your advice sounds great!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s a really good idea. My boss is remote, and I like to check in once in a while. I may do that too, since I was too new to do the yearly reviews.

          LOL that entire last sentence sounds like something from Dr. Seuss.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      It depends on your company culture. I have to explain to new folks, especially the ones coming out of college, that “meets expectations” is a very good rating. It doesn’t mean “average” and it’s not equivalent to a “C” grade. It just means you’re meeting your expectations. We expect people to do good work. We don’t expect mediocrity. Our expectations are high. If you want to exceed them, you’re going to have to go REALLY above and beyond. Otherwise you’re meeting them. There’s nothing wrong with meeting expectations where I work.

      1. AnonyMouse28*

        I appreciate your thoughts, but I think my frustration comes from the fact that I did in fact exceed expectations based on our internal rubric/company culture. All of the additional tasks I took on (including streamlining processes) improved department function, lowered our budgets, and has helped raise the reputation of the department overall, and none of those projects were in my job description. In fact, I proposed, received approval for, and implemented those projects myself, and I’ve gotten favorable comments on my performance from the c-suite as a result.

    4. jesicka309*

      I’m in exactly the same boat. I had a drop in my monthly numbers and I decided to shcedule a meeting to talk to my boss about it – the drops/rises seem pretty arbitary, so I had no idea what to do to get better.

      They actually turned around and said that the scores that I was getting were pretty good – they also said that for many metrics, it was almost impossible to get exceeds expectations more than one month in a row. Hence why I was getting rises and drops, as one month I’d increase productivity, but if I didn’t increase it higher again, no exceeds expectations, and a drop in my bonus money.

      When it’s directly linked to your bonus, it kills your motivation. Sometimes I feel like I should aim for average, then go back to being super, so that I get the exceeds expectations, because in my job there’s only so efficient you can be, and a really limited scope for going above and beyond (data entry – if I’m doing something else, no one is doing my regular work) or doing higher level work. I literally can’t take on extra or higher level work unless it’s assigned to me, and our managers take on all special assignments and get the awards/bonuses. It kills me when we have quarterly awards and it’s “This month’s quarterly award goes to National Manager John, who took on Jane’s Supervisor role while she was sick, coordinated extra projects, and dealt with crises all the time!” when you know that you could have helped or taken on those responsibilities, but John wouldn’t delegate. Seriously, all our awards go to high level managers because they’re the only ones who are allowed to take on special assignments – another motivation kiler for the average worker who has no idea how to get any recognition, and can’t even exceed expectations for longer than 4 weeks!

      ARG I hate the way my company does things. I wish I’d been told “you’re rubbish at task x. Improve!” as opposed tro “actually you’re doing great, and it’s virtually impossible to do better. Sorry!”

  5. E.R*

    I made the mistake of getting defensive when a manager criticized me in the past at an old job. (Not rude, just defensive) As I’ve had the chance to grow a bit since, I cringe at how I reacted in that one instance. A couple months ago my current boss came to me with some negative feedback and I took ownership, thanked him for letting me know, and discussed ways in which I could get better results. It went much, much better, and I feel like we actually have a better relationships now than we did before that meeting – and bonus, he’s not afraid to tell me when I’m screwing up now!

    1. Liz in a library*

      Ugh…I totally did this one time, and I’m still embarrassed by it. It wasn’t even serious feedback, but I let some mental health issues I had going on at the time interfere, overreacted and became way too defensive. That’s by far the most cringe-inducing work memory I have.

      Also why it’s good to think about these things, even if you don’t think they will be happening to you any time soon. If they do, you’ll be more prepared in the moment.

    2. Lily*

      If someone is able to deal with mistakes well, then I feel more confident about giving them tasks, because mistakes are inevitable, but people taking ownership of them is seldom.

      I prefer to find out about the problem via email so that I can think it through privately BEFORE my manager comes around asking questions. I can get defensive if taken by surprise and I’ve gotten cringeworthy defensive on several occasions with people of higher rank who weren’t my boss. The next day I called them up and apologized and told them how I was wrong and how I could correct it and meekly asked what they would like. Oddly enough, they seem more likely to consult me afterwards (I offer a service in my organization.) So, it is possible to recover.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How do you guys feel about that phrase? I actually think it’s true, but that the phrase generally comes across as kind of orwellian or condescending.

      1. PJ*

        What he said: “Feedback is a gift.”

        What I heard: “Don’t expect any feedback unless I’m feeling generous.”

        What I interpret it to mean: “Watch your back.”

        But maybe that’s just my past experience talking…

      2. Joey*

        Depends. I’ve seen execs tell people that they shouldn’t need any feedback-that they should be able to figure it out for themselves based on the goals of the organization and the general expectations of the CEO. But I can also see it interpreted as a very clear (and therfore easier) opportunity to improve.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Add to the list: feedback is a gift because it’s a rarity.
        My personal fav : “You know you are doing you job well because we aren’t telling you that you are not doing it well.”

        This might be tolerable if it did not play out like this: “You did X three months ago and it was wrong.”
        The lag time gets me. I tried to frame it as “Six months ago, I did a good job, or I would have heard by now.”

    2. Kathryn T.*

      I would be so tempted to respond with “So is anger.” Which is why I have to put my mouth on a five-second tape delay when I’m dealing with people I’m not related to.

  6. Katie the Fed*

    This is very useful.

    I’ve had to have two counseling sessions with employees and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was stressed to the point of losing sleep in advance of it, I even rehearsed with a colleague (I’m a new manager – didn’t want to screw it up). One time went well. The other one did not – the employee got defensive, accused me of trying to “build a case” against him, etc.

    Keep this in mind – in most cases we’re genuinely hoping you improve. We don’t want to fire you. We’d rather you just shaped up, and we want to help you get there. It’s for everyone’s benefit that you listen.

    Also – if your manager has been doing his/her job and you’ve been paying attention, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Also – if your manager has been doing his/her job and you’ve been paying attention, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

      This. My PIP experience sure wasn’t; I knew I wasn’t doing great and at that point, my resentment had grown to the point where I didn’t care (thus my advice to AnonyMouse28 above). It DOES bleed through, even if you think it’s not. I decided I was going to take the suggestions for improvement and run with them and if they fired me, it wouldn’t be because I hadn’t tried. When they did eventually lay me off, my manager specifically said it was NOT because of my performance (they cut my job altogether). I even got severance, which I doubt would have happened if I hadn’t shaped up.

      1. tcookson*

        Last year I had what I thought was a bad review surrounding one particular issue with my two managers. I didn’t say anything defensive, but I know they could tell I wasn’t happy because they kept assuring me that it was a good review overall.

        The thing was, I wasn’t upset to be getting feedback (good, bad, or ugly) from them; I was upset because I detected the involvement of someone else who had been inserting herself into my evaluations and into the direct line of communication that I feel is important between me and my bosses.

        Anyway, after my evaluation with my bosses, the next day I went to this other person and worked with her to improve on the thing that she had given my bosses her two cents about.

        And this year in my evaluation, both my bosses told me that they were impressed with how gracefully I had taken their feedback and how I had taken the initiative to approach and work collegially toward a solution with the person who had given the negative feedback.

          1. tcookson*

            Thanks, Elizabeth :) I didn’t feel “gracefully accepting” at first — I was pretty POed . . . but the next day I just sucked it up and did what I had to do.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Katie … it sucks that one did not go well. He may never appreciate the benefit of what you are trying to do. I bet his co-workers do (or would if they knew).

      Kudos to you for making the effort to be a good manager and trying to give honest feedback. It’s hard especially the negative feedback.

    3. Joey*

      When employees get defensive i always feel it validates the problems. I believe that part of the reason their performance is low is due at least in part to the defensiveness and an unwillingness to accept their actual performance or at minimum my perception of it.

      1. A Teacher*

        I agree with this. I see the same thing in my students at both the high school and college level as well. Instead of just owning up to the fact that their performance is subpar, they get really defensive of their actions. Some of the students also get really passive-aggressive which is prob my biggest pet peeve as an educator. I want my students to do well, I want them to get good college level grades, but I also want them to learn the material and be able to demonstrate that they learned something. When you react defensively or in a passive-aggressive manner you confirm my thoughts about you.

    4. Lily*

      I agree that it is really hard! I thought I had a good one at the beginning of the year, but the person did not follow through on his promises. So I decided to be really clear with someone else. Is it possible that being clear is seen as more authoritative, so that the person is also more likely to take you seriously?

    5. Bonnie*

      I agree with you about not being surprised. We say around here that if you are surprised with your performance review, your manager has failed in his job.

      I think sometimes with young people who were successful in school it can be hard to take critical feedback because there has been a regular occurrence in the past.

      I tell new managers that sometimes when providing corrective guidance, pause after explaining the needed change. That will give the employee time to explain why they made their original decision. It won’t change anything but often people will listen better when given the change to be heard first.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    Something I just thought of–being apologetic all the time when given feedback. It’s not really necessary to fall all over yourself when your boss gives you a suggestion for improvement. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think most bosses want excuses or supplication; they want to know you heard and understood.

    1. AnonyMouse28*

      So true. I had to beat this habit out of my head. It was almost compulsive, the “I’m sorry” response, almost as if they were silence-fillers. I’ve learned to replace it with “I understand” or “I see” but it was haaaaard.

    2. Lindsay*

      Yup, my old bosses didn’t want apologies, justifications, or supplications. They wanted, “I understand that things went wrong there, and it won’t happen again.”

  8. Grace*

    When I got counseled once for something I felt was not under my control and my manager asked me if I had anything to say in response, I asked if I could review their letter and make an appointment to talk to them the next day. I didn’t want to come off defensive and emotional (which would have been difficult).

    When I reviewed the letter, I got a much better idea of what they expected of me. I was able to talk to them in a productive way and ask the questions I needed to ask to reprioritize and they were able to see that I took this seriously, knew what I was talking about and I think THEY learned some things as well as to why this situation had come to pass. It was beneficial all around.

    I think part of the problem was they jumped to disciplining before they actually talked to me to see what was going on.

    1. J2*

      “I asked if I could review their letter and make an appointment to talk to them the next day.”

      I was thinking of mentioning something like this; that it can be helpful for some people to ask for time to process the feedback and meet again either later that day or the next day. So here’s a plea for managers to be ready to offer that to their employees. (I know, just what you wanted, right? Not just one uncomfortable conversation, but TWO of them! But seriously, it can make a world of difference for someone like me.)

      I know that I can be emotional when faced with difficult news, which is really easy to turn into defensive behavior. Plus I just like to have more time to re-read whatever written feedback I’ve been given and run through what my manager has told me in private, gather my thoughts, tidy up those unwieldy emotions, and plan out my response. That’s just how my brain works. If you force me through the entire conversation all at once, I’m going to be much more uncomfortable and probably won’t remember half of it tomorrow. Even having an hour to myself between conversation one and two will make the most important part – – planning how to change some behaviors and fix whatever problems need to be fixed — go much more smoothly and with a greater chance of success. And that’s the goal. Right?

      1. Lindsay*

        Yes. After I was fired I had to go back to HR and ask to see the paperwork I had signed with the reasons.

        I knew partially what we had discussed and I had certainly seen and read the paperwork before signing it, but in my shock and emotional state my brain didn’t retain all of it, and I wanted to be able to answer the “What happened at your last job?” question with the same thing the paperwork would support.

    2. Anonymous_J*

      “I think part of the problem was they jumped to disciplining before they actually talked to me to see what was going on.”

      This is the problem with my workplace. No one wants any confrontation, so things just simmer until there’s a “meeting”, which means that the person being “talked to” is blindsided. It’s really hard not to get defensive or angry when there has been no communication/no clue/no chance to right something before it becomes a big problem.

      Bad managers abound where I work, unfortunately.

  9. K in Canada*

    What do you do when your manager gives you feedback on some mistakes you’ve made, but then kind of back peddles and says, “but really, you’re doing great! I understand you’re still learning. This isn’t a big deal, keep up with how you are doing things” and most recently “this isn’t your problem, it’s someone else’s problem”. And then I’m left wondering if she really has a concern but is uncomfortable giving negative feedback or if I should take her last statements at face value. How long can I continue to make little mistakes and it will keep being forgiven?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “I just want to clarify exactly what it is you want me to work on. You want me to do X, Y and Z – is that correct? Great. Can we make an appointment in a month to go over how I’ve addressed these things?”

      1. K in Canada*

        The first part of your advice will work, I’ll take that approach the next time something comes up, but scheduling an appointment isn’t something that is done at my workplace. The feedback I’m given isn’t formal, it’s just on the fly (a few minutes before my shift starts or in between serving customers). I can make a point of dropping in her office in a month’s time to ask her how I’m doing though. Thanks for your input!

        1. PJ*

          Honestly, K, I’d rethink dropping in her office, and give strong consideration to making an appointment. First, it will catch her attention in an environment where “that’s not done.” Second, it will give her time to actually think about your performance and prepare herself. Third, it will show that how your performance is seen is important to YOU.

          Just my .02.

          1. K in Canada*

            I will feel very uncomfortable asking her for an appointment, but it is something I will consider. What you say makes a lot of sense but I’m just not sure how well it would go over at this workplace culture and with this manager.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              you could try for something like “why don’t we meet again in about a month to discuss my progress.” It shows that you’re taking it seriously.

              1. K in Canada*

                Yes, it’s just that in the next month’s time I might not get the chance to do the work that would allow me to improve on tasks xyz. If I’m only scheduled for day shifts in the next month, then there wouldn’t be any point. It’s the closing shift that requires me to do the job I need improving on. That why I was thinking if I get a few weeks of closing the store, then I could drop by her office and ask her how I’m doing. But in the next month, if 90% of my shifts are day time, then I don’t think there will be much evidence to draw on to appraise my performance.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Keep track. Be prepared to say “During the last month I worked 27 days. Of those days, I closed 5 times.” Don’t point out that your manager wrote this schedule, if he did.

                  Reduce your story down to numbers. Numbers are so specific they can be your best friend. I would not expect myself or anyone else to learn a closing procedure in 5 non-consecutive days. Heck, I would NOT expect anyone to thoroughly learn it in 5 consecutive days.

                  Next, divide the closing process into sections. So that could go something like this ” I am doing okay with counting the cash, but entering info in the register still needs work. I know which reports to run, but I am having difficulty with the setting the security system.”

                  By talking about specific things, you will demonstrate all the different ways that you are trying to get up to speed.

                  Don’t be afraid to ask a “what if” question once in awhile too.

            2. PJ*

              How about something a tad less formal — stick your head in her office and say, “I want about 15 minutes of your time this week to go over my performance since my last review. Do you have some time later this week?”

              If she says how about now, be prepared, and sit down.

              It just seems to me that the meeting will be more meaningful for both of you if you both have some time to think about it beforehand. But however you decide to handle it, kudos to you for taking the step to make it happen.

              1. K in Canada*

                Yes, this would work better. Thank you both for your advice and encouragement; it is really appreciated.

    2. Joey*

      You’ve got to take it at face value unless she shows you through her actions otherwise. You have to trust that she’ll come to you if its a bigger problem.

      Take it at face value, fix it, and move on. If you don’t let it go that can cause her to have more concerns about you.

      1. K in Canada*

        Yeah, I’ll try not to get to worked up about it. This is the first job I’ve had where I really feel I’m struggling and I don’t understand why because I don’t think the work is that hard. I just keep making little mistakes here and there. Being corrected and getting negative feedback is new for me.

        1. Joey*

          The next time you sit down together to talk about your overall performance you might bring up what’s acceptable in terms of small mistakes. Some level of them is going to be expected.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      K in Canada, look at the individual mistakes she is pointing to.

      There is a big difference between forgetting to put a date on top of a paper and leaving a machine on that overheats so that the fire company has to be called.

      Go one mistake at a time and ask yourself- how big a deal is this?
      Did it involve calling the fire department?

      Unless you have a boss that is known to be catty and underhanded you are probably okay. The reason she back peddled is probably because she does not want you getting upset. She just wants you to put the date on the top of the paper – or whatever else she told you about.

      Trust is a two way street. The boss wants to trust the employee to do the job. And the employee wants to trust the boss to mean what she says.

  10. MR*

    I have to echo what Katie said above. Any time there is a formal evaluation or counseling session, it should come as no surprise to the employee on the receiving end. It should just be the formality of a longer and ongoing discussion between the boss and employee.

    Of course, most managers aren’t like this and when you have a performance review, anything can happen (which is likely why so many employees dread them).

    If any surprises come up in a review, it’s 100 percent the fault of the manager, regardless of what the issue(s) raised are.

    1. Joey*

      100% the manager? Nah, there are people who, no matter how many times you spell it out will never accept criticism, especially when its formalized on something important like an evaluation. They’re taken aback now matter how many times its been discussed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. I’ve told people “we will let you go in 2 weeks if this doesn’t improve” and still had them be surprised when it happens. Some people will not hear the message, no matter how clearly it’s delivered.

      2. MarieK*

        I agree with Joey. It is, of course, the manager’s responsibility to address performance problems and their consequences directly rather than tiptoeing around them. However, some people are not receptive to criticism and don’t believe they are in the wrong. Others start to panic or tune out when problems are brought to their attention. Alison’s advice to listen is so important.

    2. Lily*

      Would a co-worker speak about a justified negative performance review to his peers? I think it unlikely. So only unjustified negative performance reviews are talked about. And many aspects of performance are not visible to co-workers, but only to the boss.

      And it is easy to bad mouth the boss, because a good manager is not going to speak up and correct the negative impression for privacy reasons; the performance evaluation is between him and the direct.

    3. PuppyKat*

      In response to MR:

      I respectfully disagree. I provide constant feedback—both positive and negative—to my employees because I never want them to have to wonder about how they’re doing And yet I’ve had some low-performing employees react with surprise when I’ve brought them in my office to counsel them.

      I even have one employee who was aghast when I included some recurring issues in her performance evaluation last year after we’d discussed them several times prior to that. She wrote in the comment section that her evaluation was the first time she’d heard about the issues. However, I had documented the times we’d spoken, so I had those notes to back me up.

      Of course, she’s also the employee who shuts down completely any time I bring up areas I need her to improve upon. So I’ve had to speak to her about that as well—plus I gave her a copy of Alison’s post from a while back about how to accept feedback.

  11. Anonymoose*

    I don’t know if this will help or make sense to anyone, but what I try to do is objectively look at myself and my work as a product. When receiving feedback, I listen as though I am my own manager and this person is my client, and we’re discussing another person (my employee). “It’s not personal – it’s business.” This kind of gets right to the heart of that. This isn’t about me as a person – it’s about the product and my client. It’s my job to hear what they’re saying and, as my own manager, see to it that my product meets their expectation.

    Another thing that works for me is remembering that my primary job as an employee is to serve the company. If I hired someone to come in and help me organize my closets I’d might want their input or advice, but ultimately I might decide not to take that advice. It’s my closet – it’s my right to make those decisions about my closet, and expect that person to help me get the job done the way I’ve asked them and paid them to. In this sense, I disconnect it from myself – it’s not about ME at all, it’s really all about them.

    Good employees take their work personally, and are personally invested in what they do each day. Those are good qualities. But there’s a line where you the person ends and you the employee – the producer of product – begins, and you need to know where that is. It makes you both a better employee and a happier human person when you find that boundary.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love this. I think I do a version of it myself with former managers and now with clients — not taking stuff personally makes you so much more able to get to where/what they want (and makes you really easy to work with too).

    2. ArtsNerd*

      “Good employees take their work personally, and are personally invested in what they do each day. Those are good qualities. But there’s a line where you the person ends and you the employee – the producer of product – begins, and you need to know where that is. It makes you both a better employee and a happier human person when you find that boundary.”

      Yes! This is also important in regards to obstacles in getting your work done. If management makes poor decisions or denies you resources, there’s a point at which they need to face the consequences of those choices. It took me a LONG time to realize that I wasn’t always obligated to cover up or magically completely compensate for the issues facing my work.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I had to learn not to control the ball that was in the other guy’s court.

        Once I told my managers I didn’t have what I needed to fulfill our orders, I had to just keep updating them and let them handle it. They did not. That was a big part of my frustration. One of my improvements was handing my frustration–I did that by letting go of the stuff I couldn’t do and just catching up on what I could.

        Also, I got very good at keeping myself busy while I waited for them to get back to me. Or at least looking like I was busy LOL.

    3. A fresh start*

      I am going to print this out and keep it. I am coming off a pretty bad year, where I had to consult the Ask A Manager archives on many occassions. It ended with me leaving the company becuase I couldn’t see the situation resolving itself, and I also lost the support of a manager who had previously always had my back. At my new job I am really trying to learn from all the bad stuff that happened last year and have a fresh start. At the moment I am loving not been so invested in my role. I go, do the best I can, leave and forget about it. I want to keep your idea in mind going forward. Sure there are improvements I can make to my ‘product’ as I go along, I can think of my own alterations, or those that the client want to suggest, however I won’t make the mistake of confusing so much of my self worth with my products worth. THat will only end in tears, which it did literally on a few occasions!!!

  12. Ruffingit*

    One thing that has always helped me in terms of listening without defending is to pretend that I’m talking about someone else with the boss. This is not easy, but it can be done and it does help in terms of psychologically removing yourself from the situation.

    You can walk into the meeting thinking “So, we’re going to discuss the performance of one of my co-worker’s today.” And then act as if what you’re doing there is getting clarity on what the issues are with that co-worker. That way, when they say “We’re concerned about your performance with the chocolate teapot training. You don’t seem to be catching on quickly” you can reply not in defense of yourself, but as you would if they were talking about someone else. “So you’re concerned that Wakeen is not catching on as quickly as he could be?” Obviously, you would say I instead of Wakeen there, but the whole idea behind this is to have a mindset that this is not about you. Helps to defuse the whole defensive thing.

    Also, I would add that in such meetings if you’re given the chance to ask questions, don’t ask yes/no questions such as “So you want me to improve my understanding of the training schedule?” Ask “What” questions that force an answer because otherwise you won’t get what you need. So “What can I do to improve my training?”

    Sorry for the length there, but the psychological trick of stepping outside myself has helped me a lot in these situations and I wanted to share.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Additionally, sometimes when you step outside yourself, you will notice that a manager is actually working very hard to salvage a situation. Perhaps the manager is recapping important details that were missed or perhaps he is explaining something you never heard him explain before.

      One thing I clue in on is if I walk out of a meeting feeling more confident about how to handle a particular problem. This means the manager put in the time to make sure I understood, so I did not make more mistakes that could put my job in jeopardy. In other words, the manager does not want to lose me.

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