How to handle difficult conversations in appraisals

Delivering appraisals is part and parcel of a managers role.

Overall, appraisals are an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge achievements and discuss and agree areas for growth and development. But as part of this process there may also be times where difficult conversations need to be had.

Having difficult conversations, in an appraisal situation or elsewhere at work, needn’t be difficult if you’re armed with insight and a set of skills to keep things on a calm and positive level. Especially in something as important as an appraisal.

Being able to have difficult appraisal conversations well is a crucial skill all managers need to acquire, because there can be real challenges in effectively managing performance and conduct issues. Get the conversation wrong, and you could significantly impact employee absenteeism, performance or worse. Get it right and you can dramatically improve employee performance, engagement, and impact throughout the rest of the team.

So it’s really worth getting a grip on some of the soft skills you’ll need for a positive outcome if you’re faced with having a difficult conversation in an appraisal.

Appraisal preparation is key

Giving feedback badly is easy. Doing it constructively and in a positive, helpful way takes some effort.

One of the most important things to get right is preparation. Preparation is key, before stepping into the appraisal you need to have gathered the facts, not only on your employees work but also about yourself as a manager.

  • What were the highs and lows?
  • Be honest and consider things from both sides.
  • Be constructive and practical, gather the facts and avoid at all costs getting personal.
  • Consider how that employee likes to receive feedback, whether that’s good or bad.

Have an appraisal goal

What is your reason for addressing this issue in an appraisal? The overall goal should be performance improvement. When the performance appraisal conversation is handled in a thoughtful manner, it’s a positive, adult, assertive way of addressing mistakes and agreeing the best way forward. So getting clear right from the start on what you want to achieve helps the conversation to stay positive and practical.

Practice your behaviour

Having open and honest conversations with your employee in the appraisal is really pivotal. And to facilitate this keeping the whole appraisal conversation as relaxed and friendly as possible really sets the stage.

What you say and talk about is important to help create this environment, but the way you say things also influences the outcome too. Much of the way we communicate comes from non-verbal communication methods. How we sit, how we use gestures and our body language in general. We are often very unaware of the subtle nuances we convey with these hidden, often unmeaning messages. You can innocently convey a negative meaning to an already on edge and sensitive employee without even realising it.

It’s a great idea to become more aware of how your behaviours are perceived by others. In fact it can be pretty eye-opening!

So practice your conversations around a difficult topic, role playing with an impartial party or play both sides yourself (refer back to preparation is key above). Video the performance and watch back exactly how you behave.

It may seem very strange at first, but being able to adjust your own behaviour, with tone of voice, specific phrases or words you may use, how you sit and how you smile or gesture to create a better and more positive outcome is really what the aim is.

Need more help with handling difficult conversations?

Our unique module Handle Difficult Conversations may be just what you or your leaders are looking for. Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of professional life, but most of us don’t naturally perform well in conflict situations or when we feel under emotional pressure.

This module provides a range of highly effective strategies and practical planning techniques to handle any difficult conversation. Discover how to control behaviour and language in a challenging conversation to manage your own emotions, de-escalate intensity, perform more professionally and deliver consistently constructive outcomes.

If you’d like to find out more please get in touch here. We’d love to help.
If you have a specific challenge in mind call one of our Client Services Managers who can discuss which programme would be best suited to you.