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I found some of the many negatives of my performance review to be very one-sided. I tried to explain but received more criticism. It feels like they don’t see the good and only the bad. Some comments were general and more opinion-based.

How can I respond now? I want to explain things to all. I can only use email. I don’t want to go to HR.

Some routes:

  • An email explaining my side. Who to send it to? What about comments I need to clarify to respond factually? Is it safe via email? What if they just try to pick it apart and criticise more?
  • Ignore and move on? And leave everyone with their negative perceptions?

Eg:

[Initial review- I did not collaborate enough.]

[My response- It was challenging as colleagues were already occupied and because of the role distribution.]

[Manager’s reply- That I had been troubling team members (without specifying that it was only 1 person), by continually asking basic questions. And now they also say that I cannot communicate and work well with colleagues.]

My perspective- The one colleague who had time preferred assisting over emails, which complicates things. I only asked when I couldn't find answers. One of my team roles was already done by another.


Thanks very much if you have read this.

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    How good of a writer are you? If you can share some of those things that were said about you, and some of the things you said in response, that might help us ascertain the situation. And yes, they will try to pick apart your defense, that's why any additional response needs to be very carefully written, otherwise it may make things worse. But without knowing the details, it's very difficult for us to know which course of action you should lean towards. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 28 at 2:35
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    How are there so many things against you? Usually there's no smoke without fire. Do you have multiple deadline misses or something like that? – Kilisi Feb 28 at 3:18
  • @StephanBranczyk I believe I can explain my view well but I cannot judge how good I can write to convince others. I have updated my question to include an example now. I hope it contains sufficient detail. Yes I think it may just make things worse but leaving their beliefs as it is also does not feel good. – user124472 Feb 28 at 4:27
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    @user124472, Based on the example you've provided, I am 99% sure that you're not going to win that argument. And I'm not saying that because I think you were wrong. I'm saying this because the complaint is so vague, it's going to be nearly impossible to counter. Is that other colleague on your side at least? If that person is not on your side, then it's one more person you'll have to fight against. If I were you, I would accept the criticism given and try to work within the constraints given (until I'm able to find another job elsewhere). – Stephan Branczyk Feb 28 at 4:50
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    Just an aside, it's also possible you're facing the consequence of a stack-ranking system. I've had phenomenal colleagues get middling reviews after outstanding years simply because others performed better, but their managers felt forced to justify the score in the review by omitting things and playing up minor issues. – Oso Mar 2 at 16:49
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Dealing with a bad performance review is unpleasant but simple & straight forward

  1. Don't argue. It's pointless. This IS the perception of your manager, whether you like it or not
  2. Ask your manager for help and how to improve. Create an actionable plan with quantitative metrics that you both agree on. Then track the plan preferably in weekly one-on-one meetings.
  3. Ask your manager to alert you every time they come across an example of an undesirable or ineffective behavior. You need specific examples so you understand, learn and adjust.
  4. If they give examples, thank them for it (even if it's hard). Try to really understand what's happening and DON'T argue. If you don't understand, ask clarification question and/or ask "what should I have been doing differently in this situation".

This type of thing is actually your manager's job and most decent managers will happily do it. If your manager doesn't want to engage, start looking for a new job or a new manager.

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  • Yes, it does seem a bit pointless to change someone's perceptions of the past now. I suppose I can gain more by listening instead of arguing with them. Thank you for those strategies, I will try implement them in the future. They sound like they can help identify why they have that perception of me and what I can improve on. – user124472 Mar 1 at 1:32
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From your question I can see the main cause of both problems you face.

You're overly verbose when communicating. You could have cut this question in half and still had too much. If this is the style your manager and colleague are seeing I'm not surprised the latter doesn't want to assist you and the former has lost interest. Some people have little patience with these things, you need to learn to work with that.

If you pursue this you need to be direct, don't give your manager wiggle room.

And don't push on this unless you're serious about it. If you are, stand your ground and be prepared to leave. If you're not, then write it off to experience and work on your communication skills.

I don't think you should doubt yourself, if you feel the criticism is uncalled for then there's probably another underlying reason for it, and this seems the most likely one to me.

Personally I'd just start job hunting if a manager isn't interested in my side of an issue, but at least make it easy for them.

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    Thank you, that could be a possible reason. I will work on my communication in the future. I'm sorry I have tried to shorten my question now. Hopefully it is less verbose. Yes I think with anything I say, they will try find some fault in it so it has to be very concrete. I'd like to not make any enemies but it just feels not good that they think I am as they say. – user124472 Feb 28 at 5:47
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    It never feels good when people do that, so you have to try and understand why from their viewpoint, then you can work on a solution. – Kilisi Feb 28 at 5:56
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    You could have cut this answer in more than half. Good answer but my brain hurts after that question then your answer. – blankip Mar 1 at 23:59
  • @blankip sorry about that, my fingers got carried away and typed most of it on their own ;) – Kilisi Mar 2 at 1:26
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I would argue the damage is done

It is very hard to change their minds once they have made them up. "Reasons" seem like "excuses" and the comments being quite general and opinion based rather than concrete with clear examples of error point to someone who is not all that evidence driven anyway. It doesn't help that you are not the clearest communicator.

I am a software engineer, so work can easily be found. I would basically treat this as being fired slowly and react accordingly. Life is too short for reputation rebuilding. Make your response a strong exit to a better place.

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  • Yes, that might be how they view my explanations. There is a quote I was thinking of (but no-one is an enemy here): "Never explain yourself. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it." Yes, maybe if I can communicate better, I could have fixed the original situation better too. It's something I'll work on. – user124472 Mar 1 at 1:37
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First, with most larger/professional companies, HR is already very involved with the performance review process. This is especially true with the negative reviews. At my company, every performance review will get read by HR or a manager a step above.

Second, HR's job is to limit and mitigate risk and exposure for the company. They do this by ensuring the company is following local/state/federal rules and guidelines as well as the company's own internal values/culture. HR is not there explicitly for the benefit of the employee, though they intervene when one of the above is being violated involving an employee.

Third, a bad performance review typically means there is ample documentation in your HR file already. This documentation typically shows patterns. In your mind, you may be absolutely correct. You may even technically be correct. However, often this documentation will paint a picture around other themes (not a team player, poor interpersonal skills, inability to take ownership, no initiative, has to be micro managed, doesn't take feedback well, plays the victim card, etc etc)

If you intend to be with this organization long-term, you need to be cognizant of your "brand". Assuming you do have several demerits, and then you complain, your brand throughout HR/Leadership can get tarnished as you get thought of as the "difficult one" or the "troublemaker." There won't be any "retaliation" as a court will recognize it, however, you will continue to get demerits and possibly corrective action/PIP.

Instead, the preferred course of action would have been:

  • First, you take ownership of the situation and get any clarification that you need on the demerits
  • Second, you create an action plan, either by yourself and present it to your manager or with your manager's help. This shows initiative and that you are open to and committed to closing your gaps
  • Third, you have regular sit downs, maybe every couple weeks or once a month to discuss your general job performance, progress on your plan, and any tweaks to your plan as necessary. If your manager doesn't schedule them, then you do it. This shows you are in charge of your own development.
  • Fourth, it's important for you to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues as to how your coworkers and leaders perceive you. It is your "brand" you are working on. This one can be hard as a lot of people in tech industry/technical jobs aren't as versed in soft skills as others in different fields. It's also important that you aren't going around to everyone around you and asking how they feel about you or how other's feel about you. This can cause you to be branded as the "needy one" or the "oblivious one." However, you can, in a more formal and very infrequent way, ask for feedback on what others feel you should be doing or not doing.
  • Fifth, think of it from you manager's perspective. Imagine you have your manager's job and are having to work with the same goals and within the same constraints as he/she does. Think about your own performance and brand. Then stack rank you with your coworkers in your head on performance, demeanor, the way you interact with others and approach problems. Now, pick some characteristics that you think would elevate your performance. Remember, performance characteristics aren't purely quantitative and can relate to company values or your soft skills.

Finally, if you believe you are correct, the questions is not how to respond to this performance review. Instead, you need to ask yourself, "do I really want to work for an organization with this culture?" If you truly believe that you are getting all objections and insufficient recognition for the good you do, it's time to find a new place to work.

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    Agreed about having to think about my "brand" with all this. Thank you, the course of action you suggested is a much better way to respond, gain information to make changes and to fix the perceptions. It's something I can do going forward now. – user124472 Mar 1 at 1:50
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Yes, I would let the review stand. I don't think this is a fight you can win.

The performance review is too vague and unfortunately, there seems to be nothing factually wrong with it. The fact is, your boss is the one who gets to decide all of those standards. For instance, you don't get to decide if a question is basic, your boss does. So even if you disagree with his assessment, there is really no way for you to reverse it.

Instead, I would focus on this if I were you:

[The manager's reply to my initial response was: That I had been troubling team members (without specifying that it was only 1 person), by continually asking basic questions. And now they also say that I cannot communicate and work well with colleagues.]

Personally, I've had the exact same problem in my own professional development. And while I'm sure that your boss exaggerating things to a degree, I would try to look for the kernel of truth in what he's saying.

I don't know what your profession is, but mine is being a software developer. And in my case at least, this is what I do to avoid bothering my coworkers with basic questions:

  1. I never bother my colleagues with questions that can easily be answered by Google or StackOverflow. Many times, that's what they must use themselves to find the answers to my questions anyway. So instead of interrupting their work and possibly annoying them, I prefer to do that search myself.

  2. If I do ask them a question, I never ask the same question twice. To make sure that never happens, I keep a daily journal next to my computer and I write down anything that I do that is out of the ordinary.

  3. I never google the same question more than 3 times. If the same question keeps on popping up all the time, it means that I need to memorize the answer using the spaced repetition technique. This is by far my favorite technique. In my profession, this technique is priceless.

  4. And sometimes, I'll do what your boss is suggesting. I'll write my questions down. Those questions are for me, but sometimes they're for other people. And I find that writing the question down helps me think about the problem more clearly. In some cases, the very act of typing out the question and thinking about explaining my problem to others is what allows me to have a breakthrough in my understanding.

  5. I have a number of friends that are in the same profession as I am, so if it's a question they can answer, and if it's a question that can wait, I'll usually wait until I'm off the clock to ask one of them about it.

  6. When studying for coding interviews, I never look up the answer on Google/Leetcode right away. I try to struggle with the problem for at least 30 min. And even after 30 minutes, as long as I am making a little bit of progress, I still won't look up the solution. Looking up the solution will just rob me of the learning opportunity. Disclaimer: I'm not saying you should do that in your own job. But if you're studying during the weekend or during weeknights to become better at your job, or to find a better job elsewhere, I'd suggest that you use a similar approach. Problem-solving is a muscle. You need to exercise it.

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  • It does seem that way. Yes, I guess their perception comes from something I'm doing and I can work on fixing that. Thank you for sharing your solutions to fix this problem. They're approaches I can definitely use going forward now. If I become better at solving problems by myself then when I ask, maybe my questions will be more interesting to them and that can improve their perceptions too. – user124472 Mar 1 at 2:03
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You respond to it by demonstrating positive performance. Even that won't work if the reviewer has it in for you though, after a point there's nothing you can do. They're in charge after all.

[Initial review- I did not collaborate enough.]

[My response- It was challenging as colleagues were already occupied and because of the role distribution.]

This is not a good response, you are just making excuses. You don't even attempt to disagree, instead you accept and support the criticism by detailing the things preventing you from collaborating. The correct response would be to give examples of times you did collaborate and build an argument supporting the opposite of the initial review.

Your manager's reply is even giving you pointers on where you are failing and how to improve. Maybe you could communicate better and not ask as many basic questions so that the next review can be more positive.

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