Giving and Receiving Feedback

The centerpiece of the performance appraisal process is the presentation of the review to the employee. Managers and employees alike often dread this conversation; managers don’t like having to offer negative feedback and employees don’t like hearing it. But there are techniques that managers can use to ease this exchange and turn it into a constructive experience for both parties.

The best way to approach the appraisal meeting is to remember what it truly is – an opportunity to both provide feedback to the employee to help him or her succeed and an opportunity to receive feedback from the employee. When both participants feel free to share openly, these meetings can spur significant performance gains.

But an improperly presented performance review can cause untold damage to the manager-employee relationship. The pointers below are intended to help you get the most out of your performance reviews, so you can reap the benefits of one of the most powerful management tools available.

Offering Constructive Feedback

  • Give the employee a minimum of twenty-four hours notice of the performance appraisal meeting. This will allow the employee to think about his or her performance and come prepared to discuss it. It also communicates that the review is important enough to plan in advance.
  • Use non-threatening body language. Maintain steady eye contact, without staring down the employee. Consider sitting next to the employee, rather than talking across your desk, unless the formal air of authority is necessary for the employee to take you seriously.
  • Even if the message you must deliver is negative, you should always treat the employee with respect. The intent is not to humiliate or belittle, but to encourage better behavior in the future.
  • Don’t beat around the bush. If an employee’s performance has been sub-par, you must tell him this in a straightforward manner, so there is no confusion as to where he stands. It defeats the whole purpose of the appraisal to tell an employee he is meeting expectations if he is not.
  • Don’t be vague. Rather than simply telling the employee he did a good job running the meeting, articulate the reasons behind your conclusion. For example, you might say that he covered all the topics in the meeting and gave everyone a chance to participate. Specific feedback like this will reinforce the behavior you want repeated in the future.
  • Whenever possible, use documented facts such as sales numbers, number of tardy occasions, cost overruns, etc. It is much easier for an employee to accept criticism if the manager has factual evidence to back it up.
  • Give specific examples of behavior or actions you have observed without adding your interpretation of the motives behind the conduct. Instead of saying the employee doesn’t care about the job, state what he did or didn’t do that leads you to this conclusion.
  • Explain the results or effect of the action or behavior. If you lost a contract because of her failure to complete a project on time, let her know.
  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. An employee may not have met his performance goals, and certainly you want this to improve, but it does not make him a bad or lazy person.
  • If there are deficiencies, clearly explain what the employee needs to do to improve. This should include actionable steps with dates that you will be following up to assess progress.
  • Encourage conversation, but remember this is not the time to get into an argument about things that happened in the past. Listen to what she says, but do not get side-tracked.
  • Remember to note positive accomplishments as well, and express your appreciation for outstanding performance, but be sincere and don’t exaggerate. Even your top talent has room to improve.
  • Establish performance goals for the next review period. This should be done in collaboration with the employee, and should include the key performance standards for his or her position, as well as other mutually agreed-upon objectives.
  • Ensure the employee has understood your message and do not move on until you are sure. Confirm by asking her to repeat back to you her understanding of what you have said.

Receiving Feedback

In order to make the performance discussion effective, you need to understand the employee’s perspective. Encouraging an open dialogue between evaluator and the employee being evaluated will help the employee understand their evaluation and help the manager understand the subordinate’s perception of his or her evaluation, to ensure the intended message was conveyed.

  • Be open to receiving the message. If the employee is not afraid to be candid, you may be told things about the company, and yourself, that are difficult to hear. But don’t react defensively – if employee criticism is justified due to management failure or lack of resources, accept the remarks and move on.
  • If the employee did not meet her goals, ask her why she believes this occurred. Do not assume in advance that the employee will offer a bad excuse. There may be legitimate reasons for her failure, some of which may not be under her control. This would include things like poor equipment or technology reliability, lack of needed cooperation from other departments, lack of training, etc. By uncovering these contributing factors, you may discover improvements you can make that will help not only this employee, but others.
  • Do not respond negatively to the employee’s delivery style or the words or phrases used. Remain objective while seeking to understand.
  • Don’t pretend to understand what the employee says. If you need clarification, ask. Use open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of what he or she means.
  • Handle any dissent professionally. Take note of any disagreement and, if warranted, agree to investigate, but avoid getting into arguments.

Look to the Future

Although performance appraisals are largely seen as a review of the employee’s performance up to that point, the primary focus should be on the future. Rehashing what has already happened won’t help anyone, unless a plan is established to maximize identified strengths while correcting any deficiencies.

Reassure the employee that you believe in his or her ability to meet or even exceed the performance standards and goals. Let the employee know you and he are in this improvement effort together; or, in the case of a success, reiterate your appreciation and encourage him on to even greater achievement.


A properly conducted performance appraisal meeting can motivate improved performance and job success, thereby boosting employee morale and the company’s bottom line. By keeping the above guidelines in mind, managers can transform this once-feared chore into the relationship-building, performance-enhancing process it can be.

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