Avoid these infuriating phrases in end-of-year feedback

Avoid These Infuriating Phrases in End-of-Year Feedback

For most managers, the only thing they dread more than going to their own end-of-year performance appraisal is holding end-of-year feedback discussions with their team. Why?

Because the performance appraisal system is unnatural by design. Imagine if we burdened our home relationships with some of the same formal systems we impose at work.

“Honey, I’ve decided to give you an end-of-year appraisal. Your cooking has improved and you’re taking out the trash without being reminded, you get an “Exceeds Expectations” in domestic duties. “But you’ve been so stressed lately, and it’s been months since you brought me flowers, I have to give romance a B-.”

And if your company is using a stack ranking system, made worse with forced ratings quotas,  it’s even more tricky.

I’ll save the rant about these old school systems for another day since chances are you’re already neck-deep in preparing for these required conversations. Instead, I’ve collected a list of the most infuriating phrases many employees have told me have ticked them off (or made them quit).

6 Infuriating End-Of-Year Feedback Phrases That Crush Morale

1. “I don’t have much feedback for you. You know you’re doing great.”

Why it’s infuriating: You know who hears this? The people that have been killing themselves going above and beyond expectations. Every single week I hear from high-performers who feel overlooked and are starving for recognition.

What to Do Instead: If they’re doing great, be sure to give specific feedback about what was so great and why it mattered. Also, care enough to offer specific ideas for how they can grow and do even better. See Also:  7 Things Your High-Performing Employees Long to Hear You Say.

2. “I rated you a meets expectations. Your performance really was an “exceeds” but I had to make the math work out.” Or, even worse, “I could only have one in that category.”

Why it’s infuriating: Basically this is saying, I’m rating you lower than you deserve. And nothing is more infuriating than injustice.

What to Do Instead: It’s always best to stay focused on results and behaviors, rather than the rating. But if an employee is frustrated, they may be so distracted by the rating it’s difficult for them to think about anything else. Be clear about the criteria that you used to calibrate performance and where they met and exceeded that criteria and opportunities to improve in the future. Stay away from comparisons to other employees, or blaming other people for the rating they received.

3. “I know we haven’t had a chance to talk about this before, but _____”

Why it’s infuriating: Nothing new should be surfacing in end-of-year feedback. And yet so frequently employees tell us they were completely blindsided by observations of behaviors from earlier in the year. It’s frustrating because it feels like a gotcha game instead of constructive feedback that they could have acted on if they had heard about it sooner.

What to Do Instead: Never bring up new feedback in a performance review. Be proactive in sharing observations as close to when it occurred as possible.

4. “Well, I don’t really have any specific examples, but it’s become a real issue.”

Why it’s infuriating: Feedback without specifics feels unfounded; not to mention generalized feedback with no examples would never hold up if they challenged you in a formal way (e.g. lawsuit).

What to Do Instead: Be sure you can offer specific examples of the behavior for any feedback you are giving

5. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from other people about your performance in this arena. Who?  I’m not at liberty to say. Have I noticed it, well, no but everybody is telling me about it.”

Why it’s infuriating: You lose credibility and trust by acting on feedback you’ve heard thirdhand—you’re essentially saying, “I trust them and doubt you.” Ouch.

What to Do Instead: Find a way to observe the issue yourself. Or encourage the person with the feedback to offer it directly.

6. “Just write up your accomplishments and I’ll sign it.”

Why it’s infuriating: Why bother? “You want me to do YOUR job?

What to Do Instead: Have them submit their accomplishments, and then invest the time to share your observations and a well-thought-through commentary. Make the effort to ensure they feel seen and understood.

Done well end-of-year feedback conversations can go a long way in building trust, aligning expectations with results, and laying the foundation for a great start to the new year. If you show up with confident-humility, focused on both results and relationships.

Other Helpful Tools For Your End-Of-Year Feedback Sessions

MIT Huddle Planner (a tool to use weekly to make your end of year sessions smooth sailing)

How to Prepare for a Better Development Discussion

Creative Ways to Develop Your Managers

Posted in Communication, Human Resources and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. This should be the basis for internal manager reviews that employees can rate their end of year review on. It goes straight to HR for that manager’s end of year review.

    Further, any managers should get rated by HR on the cumulative of these responses:
    -Remove from management
    -Train and observe (probation)
    -Meeting expectations
    -Exceeding expectations (short list for mentorship and career development)

    • Colin, Thanks for sharing your ideas. It’s always great to expand the conversations. As you say, some companies are incorporating different kinds of 360 input into reviews for managers such as you describe here. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I kept nodding. The one that really resonated is when the employee is required to write up their own accomplishments & rating. As you point out, if I am rating myself, I am doing the manager’s job. Another way to approach this is to move items that come up during one-on-one’s to a “to do” list (like an agile board) and then move the “to do” list to an accomplishments list. The manager and employee can do this progression together during the one-on-one so tasks become accomplishments.

    I enjoyed the read and keep leading leaders & future leaders Karin!

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