19 words and phrases not to use in appraisal comments

It’s that time of year again when you are asked to give feedback on your colleagues. Talking to one client just last week he said he has 17 appraisals to do.

What he meant was he has been asked to give feedback on 17 colleagues.
This can be daunting.

So how should you go about? In February this year I published a blog on 18 examples of what not to write on appraisal forms. It’s proved to be very popular. However, there is still some really bad advice like this around, so partly for fun and partly on a serious note, here are some more words and phrases to avoid on appraisal forms. I’ve also given you some ideas about what to do instead.

Before you get to the examples, a couple of pieces of advice:

Ask for the objective

Whenever you are asked to give feedback, always ask for the objective. Find out which objective you need to refer to and what the individual was supposed to achieve.

This one step alone will make your task less onerous.

Focus on what the individual has achieved

Once you have the objective, you can then identify what has been achieved against that objective (as long as it is reasonably well-written). If it’s not clear, ask for clarification. Don’t just put up with poor, woolly objectives.

What the individual did, not who they are
Always talk about what the individual said or did.

Now for the fun bit. All of these are published on various sites under the guise of useful phrases to use in performance reviews and appraisals. Oh dear.
Never write meaningless phrases like:
_____ is really helpful
In what way is Paul helpful? Does he make the tea? Did he help with your Christmas cards? Just stick to the facts. What he did and how it helped.

___________ is reluctant to comply with instructions; uncooperative
How do you know this individual is reluctant? Did he/she say so? I once had someone I thought was reluctant. I then discovered her husband’s family kept her almost like a slave. She got up at 5am to make the food for them, then came into work. When she got home she was beaten if she did not do any overtime. She then had more cooking, all the cleaning and went to bed around 1am.
All you need to do here is say that this individual was asked to do something and what happened.

Inclined to be argumentative
Again, give an example of the situation:
During a presentation from the marketing department, Fred asked 23 questions about marketing techniques. He accused the presenter of manipulating our clients and tricking them into buying things they did not want. He later sent 10 emails to the presenter on the same topic.

__________ is often difficult to work with
There are many ways in which you can be difficult to work with. If your comments are to be of any use, you need to explain what happened and what you need the individual to do differently:
“Three times we have asked for a response within 24 hours. Each time it has taken over a week and we have had no apology or explanation.”

_________ creates a work environment that discourages team members from providing new ideas.
The key here is probably that this individual’s team does not come up with new ideas. In this case you may need to set some kind of benchmark:
“Most teams come up with an average of 10 ideas on improving things each month. Since Jeremy took over the team, six months ago, the team has put forward three ideas.”

More “recommended” words and phrases

Sought out
I have no idea why someone would recommend this. What good is it if John ‘sought out’ something but didn’t do it? Much better to simply state what he did:
“John found a training course on the specific technical kinds of presentations he needs to give clients; took the course and now has had feedback from clients including:
“I can’t believe it’s so simple.” And “John answered all my questions about the Jensen flow meter before I had even asked them. I find it really easy to use now.”

This seems like it is a useful word, but don’t be fooled. It isn’t. Imagine I manage a team of 20 and spend all my time encouraging them to work harder and produce more, but not one of them does. You could still quite truthfully write: “Nancy encourages hard work in her team.”
Far better just to state what I have achieved: “Nancy has increased the output of her department from 100/week to 300/week since March.”

This is such a vague word you really should avoid it. Instead, quantify the value that has been added. Instead of: “Jane’s help has been invaluable in improving standards in the team.” Say, “Over the last three months Jane has trained all the staff in the team. This has increased output by 30% and reduced the quantity of complaints from an average of 74 per week to below 10.”

Joanne is always willing to help.
Yes, but does she help? The spirit is willing, as they say, but the flesh can be weak.

Instead of opinion, give the facts.

What has Joanne done?
“When two of the team were sick Janet immediately picked up their tasks and made sure that, when they returned all the emergency issues had been dealt with.”
Quantifying people’s attitude is very difficult. So don’t even try. Instead just give the facts:
“Thomas has been asked to help others many times. Each time he has said he already has enough work to do and that he is not paid to do anyone else’s work. He has never helped any colleagues.”

Here’s one of my favourites
Strives to cooperate with all staff
Striving is all very well, but it’s only worth it if you succeed. So does this person cooperate or just strive to?

_________takes pride in her work
This is not really relevant. What you need to identify is the quality of the work produced. The work could still be rubbish.

________ fosters good will at all levels
But what does he/she achieve? Ask yourself why this is so important, and how it helps. Then you may have something useful to put on the form.

___________ needs to work on ability to take feedback and criticism from co-workers
What you mean here is that this individual needs to act on the feedback he/she is given or even just needs to listen to it to start with. So be clear:
In March I asked Andrew to respond to my emails by the next day at the latest. He still does not do this and has given no reasons.

________ isn’t afraid to ask questions
Depending on the situation this could be good or bad. We don’t know how useful the questions are. Give some clear examples:
“______ asked a question that opened up an entirely new line of enquiry in our investigation and resulted in us identifying the cause of the leak.”
“_______ asked the same question about when the bonus’s would be paid four times during our meeting, even though it was answered accurately each time.”

Eagerly volunteers to work with and assist others
Another double-edged sword. Give the facts:
“Several times when ______ has been on the bin-cleaning rota she has offered to help others serving at the counter.”

________ develops and maintains good working relationships
How do you know, and why is this so important? How does it help? Focus on that and you will have your evidence.

_______ has ability to effectively communicate complex topics
But does he or she use it? Much better to give a specific:
“_______ presented to the sales team on how to use the new database, including how to reprogram parts of it. As a result of that 50% of them have successfully reprogrammed their sections and have been able to get more information out of the system. This has contributed to a 30% increase in sales.”

__________ performs exceptionally well under pressure
You know what I’m going to say. What was the pressure? What did this individual achieve?
For example
“During the summer when orders increased suddenly, three members of the despatch department were on holiday or off sick. ________________ remained calm and ensured that every order was still delivered on time by prioritising the orders and monitoring them on a daily basis.”

How to address concerns on appraisal forms

You know that really this should be done at the time. However, if it is and there is still no improvement, it is useful to make a record on the form.

Here’s how.

  • State the facts, what happened,
  • Identify what would be helpful next time

You don’t even have to say how bad it was:
Out of 64 deliveries, 48 have been on time. It would be helpful if they could all be within one day of the request.

________________ has been a member of the team for 2 years. We need all members of the team to be able to fill in when others are off.  It would be helpful if _________ did this without being asked.

One last tip

Start gathering your examples now if you haven’t already. That will save you a lot of time later.

For more help get

Feedback for the Faint Hearted - tips bookletFeedback for the Faint-Hearted my booklet on how to give and get feedback including a section on written feedback.

Praise and the Appraisal - tips bookletPraise and the Appraisal my booklet covering all aspects of performance reviews and appraisals.

Not ready to buy the booklet? Sign up for these free tips. Be sure to identify which set would help you the most.

Make sure you are not bullying others

One of the reasons that there is so much bullying about is that most people who do it just don’t realise they are doing it.

You may not agree with me on this. And yes, there are some people who are quite cold and deliberate. But most have no idea. I know, because I have worked with many of them, and embarrassingly, I know I’ve done it myself.

Bullying comes from immaturity and inability to behave like a grownup in situations where they feel frustrated. They do it because they have got away with it for years. No one has told them how they should behave and that their current behaviour is unacceptable.

Bullying is a natural behaviour

You probably won’t like to hear this, but it’s true. It’s the first negotiation strategy you learn as a small baby. You cry to get your parent’s attention. And it works. It’s OK for babies. But it’s not OK in adults or even children as they learn to talk. They should be learning higher-level skills. But not all of them do.

The bully at the party

I remember seeing a girl at my daughter’s school bully another girl at my daughter’s birthday party. Julie (not her real name) reached across the table and took the other girl’s pizza. The other girl just looked upset and cowered.

I immediately turned to the first girl and told her to put the pizza back, which she did without complaint. I then said to her: “Julie, if you would like some more pizza, just ask.” She asked, perfectly politely, and I gave her another slice.

She behaved well for the rest of the afternoon.

The following week I noticed Julie’s mother talking to the head teacher of the school. When I say ‘talking’ I use the word loosely. She was clearly bullying him. This was a man who had assured me there was no bullying at all in his school.

He clearly was completely unable to recognise it or deal with it.

Julie herself no doubt learned the behaviour from her mother who, of course, would never have told her not to bully others.  But with just a little help, Julie could have learned some much more effective behaviours to serve her during her life.

So it wasn’t really her fault that she got her way by bullying others. She had been failed by her parents and her school.

We have all bullied others at times

It’s very easy to bully people. It’s more likely when you are under pressure and tired. Many people have just carried on bullying in the same way they did it when they were children.

At our school re-union I sat opposite a boy (well, he’s grown up now) who had bullied many of his peers during his time at school. When one of my friends pointed this out to him at the dinner, he was aghast. The look of genuine disbelief on his face surprised the rest of us.

But how would he have known he was bullying if no one told him?

How do you know if you are bullying people sometimes without meaning to?

There are some thoughts that betray a bullying frame of mind. If you are thinking these at any time, check your behaviour and how you are treating others:

  • I am right
  • You are wrong
  • I am more important
  • This is more important
  • They are idiots/stupid/wrong
  • They should….

There are plenty more, but you get the idea. They are thoughts that show you are focussed entirely on your own needs to the exclusion of others. Once you start thinking like this, it’s easy to bully others. You feel completely justified in your behaviour.

So keep an eye on your thoughts and be especially careful when you are under pressure and tired.

Ask yourself these questions

  • What are the needs of the others in this situation?
  • Am I ignoring them?

If you don’t even know what their needs are, this is a bad sign. If you feel totally justified in ignoring the needs – this is also a bad sign.

Their shoes

It’s a simple tool, but an effective one. Put yourself in their shoes and see how you are coming across. If we all did this a bit more often, the world would be a much nicer place.

For more help with bullying go here.

How to tackle performance issues

Do you recognise this situation? You have a team member who is not performing, and they just don’t seem to get the hint.

They think they are doing a good job and do not realise how serious the problem is.

For more help get “How to Deal with Poor Performance”

It could be that they are not achieving the objectives you have agreed with them, or it could be the way they behave.

The problem with tackling performance issues

The issue here is that there is information that is available to you, but for some reason, they cannot see it.

Let’s be honest. We have all been in this situation. In fact it can be very much to do with how your brain works.

Let’s look at the behaviour issue first

Image Paul. He’s an aggressive, angry person. Because he is like this he believes the worst of everyone; people are out to get him, they are lazy, they won’t work hard unless you threaten them, you have to catch them out and punish them.

If Paul treated you like that it would be hard for you to behave kindly towards him. So most people would start to display the very behaviours that Paul is worried about.

In other words, he creates the problems himself. But that’s not the end of the story. Because he has always been like this, he does not know that life can be any different.

So if you try to explain to him that you expect him to behave nicely towards people (stop swearing at them for example) he will be incapable of understanding why because he has never experienced people behaving well.
It’s like being colour blind. If you do not know you are colour blind, how would you know that you could not distinguish between red and green?

Even when someone explains it to you, you might not believe him or her. And even if you did, you would still not be able to understand what red and green were.

Not achieving the objectives

Imagine Joan, an individual who is achieving some of her objectives, but not all of them. She seems to have a blind spot in one or two areas.
Her job has grown and changed, as it has for most of us, but she is still living in the past and doing it as it was and has not taken on the new tasks.

She seems to think she is doing a great job, but you don’t think so.
I’ve come across many situations like this.

Have you told them?

When I ask my clients this question, they almost always say they have. However, this is one of those situations where the devil is in the detail.

Most people don’t like broaching subjects like this. So they beat around the bush or talk about things obliquely. So obliquely that you have no idea what they are talking about.

Unfortunately, even when you are straight with people in these cases, you can fail to get the message across.

Have you ever not listened or not heard?

Of course you have. I confess that I have (sometimes) been on the phone to some boring double glazing-type sales person just muttering “Yes.” or “Mmm.” To be polite before explaining that I already have double-glazing.

It’s pretty easy to do, especially when people are telling you things you don’t want to hear.

What to do instead

You need to ask questions. And they have to be the right questions.
Firstly find out the facts – what the individual has done and achieved and get some evidence. Then find out what the individual thinks they are supposed to be doing.

Generally this is not deliberate

Do not treat them as a guilty criminal who has already been convicted. Often people will be really shocked when they finally realise what the situation is and that there is a gap between what they are supposed to be doing and actually doing.

Instead, help them to work out how they can close the gap and redress the situation.

Very often once you have things clear you will be able to find a way forward.

For more help see these booklets How to Deal with Poor Performance and Questions Made Easy

Helping someone else who is being bullied

Picture of woman feeling miserable and bulliedVery often it is much easier for an individual to deal with bullying if they just get a little support from someone else. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be much. Just helping them think it through can have a huge impact.

I was asked to help the daughter of a friend. She was being bullied by other girls at school.

She came round to seem me and told me the whole tearful tale. “My friends call me names, they won’t let me sit next to them on the bus…” And so it went on.

I asked her how many friends she had. She was a popular girl and she had a lot. I asked her if they all behaved like this. “No.”

I then asked her what her definition of ‘friend’ was. She thought for a while and then started to list out the qualities she thought a good friend would have.

The killer question

“Are these girls your friends?”

There was a slow realisation spreading across her face and a wide smile broke through. In astonishment she almost shouted “No!”

She leapt out off the sofa saying “You’re so right – I don’t need these people.”. She thanked me and rushed home. Her mother phoned later to say she had come home a completely different girl. She never had the problem again.

All I did was help her see things in a different way. This changed her behaviour quite drastically. (She was later appointed head girl of her school.)

Dark alleys

When you are being bullied you can get lost in dark alleys of thought that lead nowhere. Just helping someone think things through can be a big benefit.


How To Deal With Bullying – Tips

1. Identify your goal.

You need to be very clear what it is you want. Is it that you want the individual to behave in a specific way towards you? Or is it that you want a completely different life?

Only when you have worked it out can you start to progress towards your objective.

2. The trick

When you are being bullied it’s often very easy to talk about what you don’t want, and much harder to think about what you do want.

This is because you are swimming in negative emotions and that automatically makes it more difficult to set a goal. This in turn makes it more difficult to end up in the situation you need.

So try to do it in small steps.

3. An easy tip

If you are trying to work out how you want the individual to behave, simply think of someone who behaves well in the same circumstances and identify what they do. For example if someone shouts at you your goal may be:

I want X to ask me “Please could you get that folder on costs” and then say “Thank you”.


When X does not like something I have done, I want X to let me know what I need to do differently.

Once you are clear how you want them to behave it’s much easier to ask them to do it.

Why people think there is nothing they can do about bullying

This can happen because long term stress, such as that caused by bullying, damages your brain. In particular it can destroy cells in your hippocampus (a small part of your brain just above your ear).

This makes your hippocampus smaller. You may know that one of the many tasks your hippocampus is involved in is moving short-term memories to long-term memories.

This is why you tend to forget things when you are stressed.

Sonia Lupien, a French-Canadian researcher discovered that the size of your hippocampus is also related to self-esteem.

The smaller the hippocampus, the lower your self-esteem.

Self esteem

There are many different definitions of self-esteem. Generally self-esteem is
Your belief in your ability to cope with everyday life
You belief in your own value as a human being
If your self esteems drops this means that you will start to think that there is nothing you can do about the bullying. You lose confidence in yourself. So it becomes a downward spiral.

Your ability to think of ways round the situation becomes very poor, as does your ability to deal with the individual. You simply don’t believe you can do anything.

This can mean that you, completely unnecessarily, end up stuck in the situation.

Get some tips on dealing with bullying tomorrow

For more help go to this page on bullying and remember to use your discount code: NOBULLIES

What is bullying?

This week is National Anti-Bullying week. During this week we all need to make an effort to improve the way we treat each other.

The first step is to recognise bullying

Bulling happens when you ignore the needs of others and put your own needs first in a way that is detrimental to them.

Unfortunately it’s easy to do and most people who do it, despite what you may have heard, do not realise they are doing it.

Signs of bullying

  • Shouting at people
  • Swearing at people
  • Insulting people, on their own or in front of others
  • Sarcasm
  • Blaming people for things that are not their fault
  • Telling people to do things, rather than asking them
  • Giving opinions as though they are facts
  • Telling lies about people

Virtually all these things can be done once or twice in isolation and probably would not be bullying in that case. However, when there is a pattern and a constant stream of this behaviour, it becomes bullying.

The worst symptom

In my view the worst situation is when the individual on the receiving end starts to believe there is nothing he or she can do about it.

Find out here tomorrow how this happens.

Get a 20% discount on all our bullying products this week if you use this coupon code:
Go to this page Bullies and Difficult People

Why emotional intelligence helps

A lot of rubbish is talked about emotional intelligence. But what is it really? Emotional intelligence is your ability to:

  • Recognise emotions both in yourself and others
  • Know how those emotions impact on your behaviour and thought
  • Access the most useful emotional state in yourself and in others

It is far from a ‘fluffy’ skill. Neither is it the sole territory of very emotional people. Some claim it is the biggest factor in success. I don’t agree. However, it is an extremely useful and often undervalued skill.

Darwin and emotions

Darwin recognised emotions as a way of communicating very quickly and effectively. Just answer these two quick test questions:

Would you know the difference between a happy dog and a very angry dog?

The key here is that, if you were faced with an angry dog, you would very probably know instinctively without having to think about it at all.

In this situation I’m sure it’s obvious why you need to be able to get this information very quickly.

What about people?

Why would you want to know what the emotions of others are? How can knowing that help you?

This information is important because emotions drive behaviour.

You will have noticed that people are not as open-minded when they are in a bad mood. I expect  you know that it’s often better to make a request when an individual is in a good mood.

You might also be aware that people tend follow particular paths when they move from one mood to another. For example, irritability can turn to anger if you push hard enough.

Comedians are particularly good at moving us along unexpected paths. This creates the emotion of surprise and then of amusement.

Emotions facilitate thought

Different emotions make it easier or more difficult for you to deal with different situations.

When you are feeling anxious, your ability to see opportunities is reduced. You interpret new inputs as threats. This makes complete sense if your are in great danger.


However, if you take it to extremes, you may misinterpret offers of help as attacks. I remember working with a many who was very frightened. He was also angry. He told me that no one ever helped him.

That was what I had been trying to do for the previous two hours. When I asked him how he thought I felt when he told me that no one ever helped him, given that I had been doing my best to help him since 9am that morning, he looked completely astonished.

The idea that I was there to help him had not even dented his consciousness.

He was scared of being fired. He was scared of having no friends. Ironically his behaviour had almost brought about the situations he feared the most.

A hug

When he confessed to me that: “Sometimes I just want a hug” it was my turn to be surprised. I was not surprised that was how he felt, just that he had managed to say it. I knew it was very hard for him.

What he really needed was love.  But his only understanding of how to get friends and to protect himself from being fired was to attack. He thought anything else would make him seem weak.

His emotional state had made it impossible for him to get what he needed.

Emotional intelligence helps in many situations

It’s always worth asking yourself if you are in the most useful emotional state, and if not, what you can do about it.  Just consciously being aware of your own state will improve your skill because you are paying attention to it.

Difficult People

So often others seem difficult because of the emotion you are experiencing yourself and the impact those emotions have on your behaviour and theirs. Just yesterday, I was in a charity shop and had delivered several bags of old clothes along with stickers on the bags so that the charity could reclaim the tax.

The assistant, who had learning difficulties, got completely confused and started telling me to fill out a form. I immediately felt myself feeling frustrated (I hate forms and had already filled in the required form).
I was in a hurry and was just about to get quite cross when I realised what was going on. It was clear that frustration was not going to help in the slightest. Once I’d decided to behave in a more reasonable way it was obvious that all I needed to do was check the instructions that were by the counter.


Picture of Wallowing HipposIt’s easy to become a hippo when things don’t go your way. By that I mean someone who wallows in a negative emotion rather than making an attempt to access a more useful emotional state. This is where you start blaming everyone else for your problems.

I confess I’ve wallowed on many occasions. But recently I’ve decided that my wallowing days are over.

And, guess what? It’s not as hard as you might think. The results are better too.

Dealing with ‘difficult people’ is much easier when you are in the right emotional state. Get some easy was to deal with difficult people here.