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6 top tips for great appraisals

Top tips for appraisals

Do you dread appraisal time? Tend to find them a demoralising experience?

Or are you often the one conducting the appraisals? Find it hard to know how to deliver them well?

Read on here for our three top tips on how to be a good appraiser…and a good appraisee…

Tips for the appraiser 

1.Delay = demoralisation

Let’s start with a simple one. If you find yourself postponing a team member’s appraisal numerous times, you need to find a different approach to scheduling. 

I get it. We’re all busy. We all postpone stuff. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But one of the most common complaints people bring to therapy is their boss continually delaying their appraisal. 

With each postponement, a little chunk of momentum is lost. Your team member knows that their appraisal is not a priority for you. Either they lose heart and interest in the whole thing. Or the opposite happens. They get annoyed. They ruminate over what feedback might be coming and they start to build their case against anything that they might perceive as negative. 

Trust me, you do not want to have an appraisal with someone who has either become demoralised and disengaged before you’ve even walked in. Or who has become overly defensive and therefore unable to receive constructive comments on areas in which they need to grow.

So try not to start off on the wrong foot by repeatedly kicking appraisals off into the long grass.

2. Get your examples at your fingertips

Another common complaint from appraisees is that appraisers make sweeping statements without giving examples of what they mean. Often this relates to slightly intangible issues such as “you don’t seem that committed” or “your manner can sometimes be a little informal”. 

This is a tricky one. It’s difficult for appraisers because often it’s about feedback that is a bit awkward to deliver – like “you’re not dressing appropriately for work” or “your attitude is wrong”. 

But, if as the appraiser you don’t come up with examples beforehand to demonstrate what you mean or try to get such examples from whoever else has given the feedback, you make a difficult situation worse. 

One of the most difficult aspects of being an appraiser or a supervisor is, what we call in therapeutic terms, being willing to “be the bad object” or, in normal person’s terms, being “willing to be the bad guy”. It’s hard to deliver feedback that you know won’t go down well. But having examples at your fingertips will help. Be specific.

3. Elicit – Provide – Elicit

Part of your goal should be to create a collaborative relationship with your appraisee rather than setting up a Parent-Child, Teacher-Pupil type dynamic. The latter can lead to an appraisee either adopting a compliant, submissive role or becoming slightly rebellious. Neither is desirable.

A good way of creating a different, collaborative feel to appraisals is to use the Elicit – Provide – Elicit model*.

  • Elicit – first, ask your appraisee open questions about their experiences over the relevant period. Yes, you run the risk that they will say “everything is wonderful, I’m the best trainee ever” and you may then have to burst their balloon by giving difficult feedback. But it’s important that you know where they’re at first so that you can pitch what you say at the right level.
  • Provide – offer your experiences of them and the feedback from others. Expressly refer to it as “offering” your feedback and what you’re saying as “suggestions”. Wording it this way creates a more open feel and is less likely to create resistance in your appraisee. Whereas going in hard with your feedback can set up a combative feeling in the appraisal that you don’t want.
  • Elicit – finally, ask what they’ve made of it all, agree action points and ask what they might do now. Worst case scenario is that they say “well, I think what you’ve said is a load of old codswallop”. If that is the case, you need to know there and then so you can acknowledge it and ask them to consider it further. Appraisers often miss out this final Elicit step. But if you do, the appraisal will end with what’s been discussed floating in the breeze and not having been pinned down properly. Not good. 

Tips for appraisees 

1. Two-way street

As above, the default set up for appraisals where the appraisee becomes passive observer and the appraiser is Teacher/Expert/Parent is to be avoided. 

An appraisal is a conversation about work between two adults. Yes, one has more experience than the other but that doesn’t mean that your role as appraisee is to be a mute receptacle for feedback. 

Psychotherapist and clinical and organisational supervisor, Chris Mills suggests that appraisees should be asked open questions to draw out the totality of their experiences, including the following :

  • what they’re enjoying and not enjoying;
  • what they feel their successes have been
  • where they feel weaknesses have held them back and 
  • what they hope to significantly achieve in the coming appraisal period

…amongst other things. Mills adds that it’s also helpful to add a reflective space for anything else not covered by the questions above.

If you’re reading this thinking ‘these questions don’t get covered in my organisation’s appraisals’, you, the appraisee, can take matters in hand yourself. 

You can request time at the start of the appraisal or send your supervisor an email beforehand setting out your reflections on the above. 

Becoming more aware of the dynamics mentioned above and taking a more active role in your own appraisal where you can will help you to avoid feelings of resentment later on. 

2. Hearing the negatives

We all hear stuff we don’t like in appraisals. Occasionally the feedback can be downright galling and we can’t find any aspect of it we agree with. In the spirit of what we’ve mentioned above i.e. that appraisals are intended to be a discussion in which you are an active participant, what we do not want is for you to shut down. That helps no one. 

If you’re receiving difficult feedback, instead of disagreeing straight away, remember that open questions and a bit of curiosity are your friend. Try statements and questions such as these:

“OK, I think you’re saying sometimes my work lacks a little attention to detail. I hadn’t realised that before. Can you help me understand when this issue has arisen? How would you suggest handling that?”

If you are given feedback you strongly disagree with, buy yourself some time by using a phrase like this:

“That’s not something that fits with my recollection. Can you give me a bit of time to think about that and process what you’ve said?”

These phrases are responses from an Adult position (i.e. sidestepping the Parent-Child dynamic mentioned above). You avoid defensiveness but make it clear that you don’t necessarily agree with all that’s been said. You can pick up with the feedback at a later date if needed when things don’t feel so fraught. 

3. Ask about their experiences

Appraisees often get disgruntled because they feel their appraiser is suggesting that there is a simple solution to what is in fact a difficult or nuanced issue.

One classic example is the appraiser telling the appraisee they need to pay more attention to detail without acknowledging the tension between the need for accuracy and speed required to do the job well.

Or the appraiser tells a trainee that they “need to be more confident” while the trainee thinks to themselves “but the last time I offered up an idea, I was shot down immediately!”. 

If your appraiser does not acknowledge these tensions, there are ways of you broaching the subject without appearing defensive. 

Saying “I’m aware of the tension sometimes between accuracy and speed/confidence and being seen as a bit gung ho” shows maturity and an appreciation of nuance.

Following it up by asking your appraiser “can I ask how you managed to tackle those tensions when you were around my stage in your career?” is even better. Ask them what that looks like practice. How do they know when they’ve checked a document enough times? How do they determine when to fire an email off and when to wait? Pin them down on specifics (in a nice way). You can benefit from their experiences and pick up some tips along the way.

We hope these 6 tips are useful in transforming your appraisal experiences. If you’d like to receive training or coaching on how to handle appraisals and supervision well, get in touch on

*The Elicit – Provide – Elicit Model is from the Motivational Interviewing school of therapy. Find out more here –