Evaluation Conversation Guide

Creating a Safe Environment for Performance Reviews

Long-term goals:

  • They continue to have a sense of what they can contribute to the team.

  • The team member continues to be engaged in the work.

  • They are aware of and ready for changes and flux in the team/ clients work/ market etc

  • The team member stays in the org.

Immediate goals:

  • They walk into the room not experiencing a power differential; are okay with “being judged”, which is what an assessment really is.

  • The review conversation is net positive for the team member, even if feedback shared includes what they did well, what they didn’t.

  • They are on the same page as you - they understand (and accept in due time) the numbers, rating, feedback you have given them.

  • They are in the frame of mind to disagree but commit.

  • They are not angry/ upset or losing confidence in their own ability.

  • They feel safe with you to want to have a future conversation about what this all means.

Preparing for the conversation:

Actions you can take

Hopeful impact

Watch out for

Ask the team members if they are ready/ getting there with their review prep.

Especially with people with less than a year with us, do this

You’re setting the tone for a normal conversation, not a scary one

Hesitation/ forced responses

If this happens, give them space in a conversation 1-1 immediately, if you can

Ask prior to the day of the conversation if there are any worries/ tension on their mind.

If they look hesitant, tell them, it’s not a judgment conversation, and their comfort is important for you. Tell them, for this to happen, both of you need to work together.

The comfort conversation starts way before the actual conversation

People who have said they have anxiety/ use the word “anxiety” a lot in their conversations - make sure you do this chat with them

Hesitation/ forced responses

Check if they feel they will be safe in the conversation with you

Asking this question is a big deal. It demonstrates openness from you. They feel more comfortable

They say no, in which case, next step

Ask if they want someone else to be in the conversation as an arbiter (in extreme cases)

They know this is an option. This emboldens them to own their worries.

Worst case, they ask for an external person - I am happy to sit in

If they say yes, them naming someone they feel is “in their corner”

Do NOT: Make jokes about “Tomorrow, we’ll see what happens”

It might be a joke for you and a kernel of doubt in their head is all you need to set off future fires

Starting the conversation:

Actions you can take

Hopeful impact

Watch out for

Set context

Tell them the purpose of this conversation is to set them on a growth path. That the next hour is about them, how they see themselves, how others see them and where are there convergences and divergences

Get them to realise that there will be agreements and disagreements and that both are okay

Strong disagreements.

Evaluate if you want to park the conversation for later/ take the conversation to closure by asking them lots of open ended questions.

Try and not get into discussion mode with data at this stage.

Tell them your goal is to make them succeed eventually

This might be obvious to you but not to them. Tell them this is a long term goal, and you want them to succeed, get wealthy, grow a reputation.

Disbelief/ cynicism. If you see either, ask, “I can see from your expression that you are disagreeing. Can you talk to me about it?”

Whatever they say, listen, write down what they’re saying, don’t react, don’t disagree. Give yourself the luxury of time to think and respond later. This is never easy but it’s essential

Tell them progress is not always linear. Use any relatable example from your life to drive that point home

They internalise this. In a review discussion, if there isnt overwhelming progress, the reviewed person tends to beat themselves up. This is to get them to embrace failures as well.


This is their conditioning more than a personal disagreement with you. Whatever they say to you at this stage is useful to understand their worries and fears, so listen, take time to process, and see how you can use this to make them more comfortable, and feel they are safe, despite having shared their fears.

The conversation

Actions you can take

Hopeful impact

Watch out for

Give them time to process the info

Ask them if they have questions/ clarifications. Give the process time for this part

They feel heard, not just assessed


Ask open questions to understand. Take the time you might need to get back t them

Tell them they don’t have to defend themselves now/ nor do they need to explain/ clarify etc.

Self explanatory

Same as above

Tell them that they have the option to disagree.

Make sure the conversation is respectful

Self explanatory

Same as above

Ask yourself, will they have the courage the next time to have this conversation with me, with this level of candour and openness? Am I facilitating that? Am I keeping acceptable levels of comfort?

Self explanatory

Same as above

Ending the conversation

Actions you can take

Hopeful impact

Watch out for

Ask them how they are feeling

They feel human and heard

Shutting down.

If they are, ask them if they want to be left alone?

Ask them what you could do to help them feel less (whatever emotion you can see them feeling)

Ask for a follow-up conversation the next week.

What is one thing they are positive about?

Refocus the conversation to the positive

Them saying “nothing” Replay areas of progress

If they shared enough above, ask this question.

What is one thing bothering them? Can you plan to meet them in Feb to work through this?

Acknowledge worries and fears. Table it now. Tell them youre there to work with them through this.

Them looking sullen/ worried/ sad.

Ask them, “Is it okay to talk about what you are feeling now?” “Why are you feeling that way?” “What can I do to help?” etc. Try and use open ended questions to get them to assess if their feeling is valid, if it is, empathise, and get them to action planning so they can get out of that negative feeling

Tell them this is work, not personal, so not to self-judge/ beat themselves up etc.

Normalise the process


Listen to their logic as to why. Whatever you say at this point, that comes from a place of conviction is okay, if it comes from a place of assessment/ disagreement, don’t say it

Tell them that all of our work and careers have had ups and downs. Share a couple of your “down” moments and normalise it.

Get them to be okay to talk about “fail” moments

Same as above

Ask them how you did as their manager.

Instant feedback - they’d give you what they felt, not what they think is the right answer.

Patterns in what different people are saying. You know what to do with the patterns :)

Further reading: