Performance reviews are a crucial opportunity for an employer to express to an employee how they are progressing in the company, and for the employee to have open communication about their job in a formal setting. It is a time to address shortcomings, successes and general feedback. However, an employer should keep in mind that the phrasing they use in a performance review has a big impact on how it is interpreted by the employee.
According to the 2017 Employee Engagement Report by TINYpulse, employees are already feeling less valued at work because managers are falling behind in their recognition efforts. Nearly 80 percent of employees surveyed don't think their organization's performance review process is very good – but setting clear expectations and working on your words and phrasing could help.
Here are a few tactics and phrases to avoid when offering feedback during a performance review. [Writing a performance evaluation? Follow these tips to get it right.]
Don't get emotional
Phrases that are subjective or based on emotions should be especially avoided, said Mavis Norwich, sales manager at employee engagement company TINYpulse. A manager should remain as objective as possible and give factual examples that support the review.
"When speaking with an employee, don't use phrases such as, 'In my opinion…' or 'I feel….' These phrases are too subjective and can lead to miscommunication," Norwich said.
Don't use extremes
Words such as "always" and "never" should be avoided as well. These words are too extreme when referring to employee performance.
"For example, if one of my employees is not satisfying their daily call requirements, it would be inappropriate to say 'you never make your daily calls.' I could, instead, say 'you consistently fail to meet your daily call requirements,'" Norwich said.
It is easy to say someone is unreliable or uncooperative, but when these statements aren't supported by specific examples, they are too ambiguous.
"Without evidence, generalized feedback can be interpreted differently from manager to employee," Norwich told Business News Daily. "Examples give guidance to the employee on performance which they can continue or discontinue."
How to steer the conversation with open-ended questions
Vip Sandhir, CEO and founder of HighGround, said that managers are only human, and it's likely that they will use the wrong language at some point during performance conversations. If things go awry, apologize, then get the conversation back on track by asking the employee open-ended questions that relate to their goals and career path. He also offered some examples of what not to ask and what to try instead:
Don't say: "Here is what I need from you."
Try this instead: "What would you like to discuss first?"
"When managers say this at the beginning of a check-in, employees have the opportunity to drive the conversation and play an active role in their own development," Sandhir said.
Don't say: "Tell me about your current challenges."
Try this instead: "Let's discuss how this project is going so far." or "How can I better support you as you work towards your goals?"
"This way, managers can set the stage for a more positive conversation around how daily to-dos enable employees to accomplish their predetermined objectives," added Sandhir.
Don't say: "Let's touch base about this sometime soon."
Try this instead: "Let's check-in on your progress in (insert number) days/weeks/months. Does this time frame work for you?"
If a situation arises where incorrect/wrong phrasing is used, a manager should take ownership of the miscommunication and correct the statement. Confirm the employee understands their performance review and move forward in the conversation with mutual expectations.