Performance Appraisal
Conflict and Confrontation 

nvariably the needs arises in performance appraisal to provide an employee with less than flattering feedback.

The skill and sensitivity used to handle these often difficult sessions is critical. If the appraisee accepts the negative feedback and resolves to improve, all is well. But if the result is an angry or hurt employee, then the process of correction has failed. The performance of an employee in such cases is unlikely to improve and may deteriorate even further.

According to Krein (1990), appraisers should not confront employees directly with criticism. Rather, they should aim to let the evidence of poor performance emerge "naturally" during the course of the appraisal interview. This is done by way of open-ended questioning techniques that encourage the employee to identify their own performance problems.

Instead of blunt statements or accusations, the appraisers should encourage an employee to talk freely about their own impressions of their performance. For example, consider the case of employee who has had too many absent days. The appraiser, in accusatory mode, might say:

"Your attendance record is unacceptable. You'll have to improve it."

A better way to handle this might be to say:

"Your attendance record shows that you had 7 days off work in 6 months. What can you tell me about this?"

The technique is to calmly present the evidence (resisting the temptation to label it as good or bad) and then invite the employee to comment. In many cases, with just a gentle nudge from the appraiser here and there, an employee with problems will admit that weaknesses do exist.

This is much more likely when an employee does not feel accused of anything, nor forced to make admissions that they do not wish to make.

If an appraiser can get an employee to the stage of voluntary admission, half the battle is won. The technique described by Krein is a type of self-auditing, since it encourages the employee to confront themselves with their own work and performance issues.

The technique is useful because it is more likely to promote discussion and agreement on the need for change. Confrontation techniques that rely on "charge and counter-charge" tend to promote adversarialism - and that leads to denial and resentment.

 Ownership of Problems
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the self-auditing process is that employees are more willing generally to accept personal "ownership" of problems that have been self-identified. This sense of ownership provides an effective basis for stimulating change and development. (Some would argue that it provides the only basis.)

Nevertheless there are individuals who will not admit to anything that appears to reflect poorly on them. With ego defences on full-alert, they will resist the process of self-auditing very strongly. In such cases, appraisers may have no choice but to confront the poor performer directly and firmly with the evidence they have.

Sometimes the shock of direct confrontation will result in the employee admitting that they do need to make improvements. But sometimes it will just make their denial of the problem worse.

In providing any feedback - especially negative feedback - appraisers should be willing and able to support their opinions with specific and clear examples. Vague generalizations should be avoided.

The focus should be on job-related behaviors and attitudes. If a specific observation cannot be supported by clear evidence, or touches on issues that are not job-related, it may be best to exclude all mention of it.

Appraisers must carefully scrutinize their own perceptions, motives and prejudices.

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