Advice for Happier Performance Appraisals

The topic of Performance Appraisal (PA) discussions has come up with several clients recently. Anxiety seems to be the most common emotion associated with PAs, both on the part of the receiver and the writer/manager.

A little anxiety running up to the conversation can be helpful. It will keep you alert and engaged during the discussion. Once the conversation starts, however, you don’t want to be trying to speak and listen from a body of anxiety. Your primary filter in anxiety (a low grade version of fear) is, “This person may want to do me harm, so I must be vigilant.” How can you be a good listener when THAT conversation is going on inside your head and your body is sitting on the edge of a fight/flight/freeze response?

I offer two bits of advice, one for you if you are a manager/writer of the review, and one for if you are the subject of a PA (and many of you find yourself in both roles, I’m sure!). This comes out of my personal experience – 20 years of leading over 400 performance review conversations, during which time I made my share of mistakes and learned great ways to create a positive conversation even when the news is difficult.

For the manager/writer:

Whether you are delivering good or bad news, praise or corrective steering advice, always respect the PERSON. You may disagree with their opinion but don’t be disagreeable. You may think your assessment is superior to theirs but don’t forget to listen and hear them out, even when you disagree with their assessment. In every way possible, seek to make it a dialogue rather than a monologue.

When you find your emotions rising up (anger, anxiety, irritation), remember to sit back, take a deep breath, and let your body settle down before you continue. As the saying goes, “People will forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

For the receiver of feedback:

Remember, you are human and you are not perfect. No, your boss is not perfect either, but that’s not the point. The purpose of the Performance Appraisal is to assess contribution to the business and to grow capacity for the future. It’s a business tool, not a massage.

If you arrive in a PA conversation believing that the purpose of the exercise is to feed your ego, you will be disappointed. If, however, you arrive with eagerness to talk about what more you can do to learn, improve, grow, and otherwise increase your value to the company, you’re far more likely to “hear” critical feedback as a GIFT to you. After all, if all anyone shares with you is praise, you’ll miss the opportunity to grow!

Even if your manager does a clumsy job of delivering feedback (and a lot of them do), try to get past their delivery to the nuggets of helpful information. It’s YOUR responsibility, after all, to build your skills and your career.

OH, and the same advice to you about breathing: When you find your emotions rising up, remember to sit back, take a deep breath, and let your body settle down before you continue. And remember: It may be personal but that doesn’t mean you have to take it personally.



Jim Smith, PCC, is The Executive Happiness Coach®. He is an international speaker, executive and life coach, and author. He provides his clients with inspiration and practical tools to live a happier life and build more positive work cultures. He is the author of Happiness At The Speed of Life: 13 Powerful Strategies for Finding Happiness at Home and On The Job, and has touched the lives of over 10,000 people worldwide through his work on Positive Emotion and Leadership. You can connect with Jim at