How to Say It: Phrases for a Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisals can create stress for supervisors, particularly when you need to provide corrective feedback. Even the most experienced managers can find themselves at a loss for words during the conversation.  Here are some phrases to help engage the employee in a two-way dialogue.

  • “The ABC Project was a key area of focus for you this year. What went well that you are proud of? What might you do differently next time?” Often, if you give employees a safe space, they will come up with the feedback that you need to give. Often, the “do differently next time” element gives the employee the chance to state a development action in his or her own way, which you can then use as a lead-in to your feedback.
  • “Yes, there were lots of people involved in that project — Let’s focus on your specific role and activities.” If the employee starts blaming others or gives excuses, refocus on their part of the equation — acknowledge others were involved, and then refocus on what the employee can own.
  • If the employee is overdoing a strength (too much independence means not enough engagement with others; too much relationship-building means not enough focused work time): “We all have strengths that when maximized can get in our way. I see one of your particular strengths as ___. Sometimes, though, I have seen that it can result in ___. For example, ___. What are your thoughts on that?”
  • If you are particularly brave, consider asking: “Put yourself in my position as your supervisor. Thinking about your performance this year, what performance rating would you give yourself (overall, in this area, ect.)? Why?” In my experience, if you have been effectively communicating feedback throughout the year, about 8 out of 10 people will give you the same rating you were intending to give them, saving you a lot of stress. For the other 2 of 10, one will generally rate higher and one lower than your assessment. If they rate themselves higher, focus on the why. “So, it sounds like you were pleased about ___; let’s talk about that more. How do you think [customers] [colleagues] might have seen that?” Asking leading questions in a gentle way may help your employee get to the needed feedback without you directly contradicting them, and can give you valuable information you did not have before.

Most of these phrases are actually questions. Feedback is far more memorable when the person receiving the feedback says the key points first, on their own. Trust the process, and gently guide the person down that path you are creating. Given the chance, people will often beat you to the point, so they can say it first in the best possible way. Knowing what you want to say, but guiding the recipient through a process that is more collaborative generally lowers the stress level and builds the relationship.