Defending Your Performance at Work

Most of us don't respond well to criticism, particularly when it concerns something as important as our professional abilities and our careers. A negative performance review can sometimes hit hard, even if it doesn't come as a surprise. So, how should you handle it when faced with a negative review of your work?

Be Prepared

When it comes to working and being in the firing line, we can usually see it coming. If you know your work has been substandard or below par, it's best to make everyone aware of this straight away and offer solutions. Employers appreciate employees who can self-evaluate, and who are aware of their shortcomings. Here are some expressions that will help you bring up your own shortfalls before someone else has the chance to:

I am aware that my work has been below par.

I have been struggling with a few issues you might be able to help me resolve.

I realise I have dropped the ball with... (the idiom 'drop the ball' means for someone to allow themselves to fail)

I feel my performance has been inadequate in a few key areas.

I am finding it difficult to reach my targets.


Address Wrong Information Straight Away

If you feel that a person giving you negative feedback has inaccurate information - giving them a false impression of your work - it is important that you address this as soon as possible. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, it is difficult to articulate why something is incorrect. If you can't do this face to face, sit down after the meeting and draught an email or letter, outlining the incorrect facts and clarifying the truth with evidence to back it up. The following phrases might help you:

I feel there are some inconsistencies in those figures.

I don't think those statistics can be right.

Your figures don't match mine. Could I have some time to take another look at them?

I'm surprised to hear you think that. I have some information to the contrary. (contrary means 'the opposite')

I feel I am working to unrealistic/unachievable targets.

I think there is a lack of awareness from Management, of the reality on the ground.


Excusing Yourself and Owning up to Your Mistakes

If you have significant shortfalls - such as taking lots of time off or consistently being late with work - it is best not to argue and instead excuse yourself and admit to your mistakes. Here are some ways of excusing your behaviour:

It's the best I could do at short notice.

There were many conflicting/shifting priorities.

I clearly wasn’t given this my best.


Here are some ways you can own up to your mistakes and accept what the other person is saying:

I know where you are coming from and I totally understand.

I agree that this is not acceptable.

I can't argue with you.

I admit that I am at fault.


If the situation is serious, or there are bad circumstances, you might want to apologise, and assure your employer that your behaviour will be amended:

I assure you that this won't happen again.

I can't stress enough how sorry I am/how much I want to put this right.

I intend to take all of this on board and come back stronger.

It's been very beneficial for me today to take a step back and evaluate where I am.

I'm glad that we can see eye to eye on this.

You don't have to tell me twice.

Please accept my apologies. I know I can do much better than this, and I intend to prove it.


Some of these expressions may help you defend your performance or handle a negative performance review. At times, a negative review can turn into something positive. You may get assistance in doing something you were struggling with. The lines of communication are open for future correspondence or tracking of your performance, and you have the chance to check in afterwards and prove you are delivering on your promise. So, don't panic. Listen and communicate clearly.

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