Do you dread doing performance reviews? Try these steps for better results

Performance evaluations  – when they go well – are a time to take a step back and see whether you and your employee have a common view of how things are going and to figure out together whether expectations from both perspectives are being met. Because so much is at stake for both of you, the review can be emotionally charged – often to the point of conflict. In some companies, raises and promotions are tied to performance reviews, adding more fuel to the fire.

Often, both employees and the employers come to the review process with a list of expectations – employee and/or business unit objectives, duties assigned, etc. – and opinions about how well they were met. Conflict arises when there isn’t a shared understanding of what was expected and/or how well it was done. While this can occur for lots of reasons, most common are a lack of clear measurable, documented objectives or incomplete, inaccurate or delayed communication around whether objectives were met.

So, what do you do if you find yourself disagreeing with an employee about their past performance? How can you take a confrontation and turn it into a valuable learning experience? A first step to getting on the same page is assuring that each of you is heard by the other. Yes, just simply heard.

Here area a few ways to lower the tension level and get to a common understanding. You can share these tips with employees so they are also aware of things they can do if they start to feel stressed.

  • Stop. If you find yourself disagreeing, take a brief break. I often quip, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” To pause the conversation, you could say, “I’d like to take a moment to think about what you just said.”
  • Breathe. It’s amazing how settling it can be to take a few moments and take a few deep breaths. Often the person across the table will unconsciously follow suit. Deep breathing – like yawning – can be contagious.
  • Re-start the conversation. Try, “I feel that there may be misunderstandings. I am very eager to hear what you have to say. Would you be willing to start over?“
  • Reflect. Try saying back to the other person what you heard them say. For example, to an employee saying that she had to work overtime because sales staff processed same day orders right up to the close of day, “So, are you saying that if we stuck to the agreed 3:00 cutoff for same day sales that you could complete all of the ordering by 5:00?”
  • Observe, rather than judge. No one I know is a good mind reader. Rather than say, “you aren’t committed to our company’s success,” you might say, “when I saw you texting during the staff meeting, I wondered whether you were really paying attention to work.”

At the end of the process, spend some time discussing ways to avoid future disconnects. Write down expectations and ways to measure whether they are being met. Get together frequently to discuss how things are going. Always start every conversation with the things that are going well. It’s easier to hear about what isn’t working after you’ve talked about what is.


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at

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