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

the best mid-year review questions

Great Mid-Year Review Questions

Mid-year reviews are the half-time huddle of your performance Superbowl.

If your company doesn’t require them, do them anyway. If your boss doesn’t have a mid-year review planned for you, ask for one.

They’re great times to summarize, celebrate, challenge and inspire. If you’re not convinced or need help getting started read last year’s post: How to Conduct a Meaningful Mid-Year Review.

Use this time to ask great questions that inspire deeper thinking and build a meaningful connection.

Voltaire on questions: “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Mid-Year Questions to Reflect on Performance

  • How are you feeling about the year so far?
  • How would you describe what’s happening with this project?
  • What are you most of proud of this year?
  • What lessons have you learned?
  • What new relationships have you fostered?
  • How are you different now than you were 6 months ago?
  • What new skills have you developed?
  • Where are you stuck?

Mid-Year Questions to Challenge and Turnaround

Bono on questions: “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”

  • Have you ever had an experience like this before? What did you do that helped at that time?
  • What patterns do you see?
  • What do you think we should do?
  • Which habits would you like to change?
  • What’s the most important thing you can do to turn this situation around?
  • What additional resources do you need?
  • How can I best support you?

Mid-Year Questions to Encourage

  • What would it look like if?
  • What would happen if?
  • What’s possible?

Mid-Year Questions to Solicit Feedback

  • If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing differently?
  • What can I do to better support you and the team?
  • What have I done this year that most ticked you off?
  • What am I doing that’s most helpful to you?

If you’ve been using your Let’s Grow Leaders MIT Huddle Planner (free for download here), preparing to conduct or receive a mid-year review should be that much easier, with your weekly accomplishments captured in one place.

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye