How to Run Successful Appraisals with Difficult Employees

How can we conduct appraisals when the employee is neither happy nor willing to be there?

Words like ‘appraisal’ can make some people want to run a mile! This may be due to pre-conceived ideas about the appraisal process, or unpleasant past experiences – perhaps a previous manager did not do a good job.

We can’t undo what has gone before, but we can acknowledge it and do whatever we can to change their perception of appraisals going forward.

Before the appraisal

What can we do to mitigate the level of challenge before the appraisal discussion begins? Firstly, let the employee know when and where the meeting is taking place and ask them to prepare for it. They need to evaluate their own performance, and bring along evidence of their work achievements to support their evaluation. Remind them why appraisals happen – to help everyone improve and be the best they can be. They’re not being victimised, everyone has an appraisal!

Setting the scene can help the staff member to understand the process, hopefully removing a lot of anxiety about it. It’s a proactive way of making the appraisal itself much more user friendly for both parties.

During the appraisal

What do you do if the employee disagrees with what you are saying? If you’ve prepared properly, then you will have specific examples of their behaviours and actions to support your feedback. If they persist, ask them to justify their comments. Perhaps you’ve missed something? Asking questions will help you to understand.

Also, if they have prepared, they should be able to support what they’re saying with their own examples. Keep challenging them politely to support what they are saying. If they cannot, then they should accept your views.

Alternatively, what do you do if the employee shuts up and remains silent? Remind them that it’s their appraisal, it’s confidential, and they need to contribute. Point out that your feedback about their performance will be recorded on their personnel file, so if they don’t agree with you they need to say so, otherwise you’ll have to assume that your feedback is accurate and they agree with it. They’re doing themselves no favours by staying silent! Later, when they finally say they didn’t agree with the feedback, it will be too late.

What do you do if the employee becomes emotional and starts crying? Offer them a tissue and take a short break. Leave the room, give them time to compose themselves, then rejoin them and check they’re ok to resume the appraisal. Remind them that the appraisal is going to happen, either sooner or later.

What if they become angry, or get up and walk out? Again, it’s time to call a short break as things have become heated. Assess your own contribution here – have you inadvertently caused the outburst? If so, apologise. Perhaps you didn’t explain yourself very well? If they do walk out, follow them at a safe distance, checking they’re not smashing up the office or doing anything else silly. Later, after some cooling off time, call them or approach them and explain that the appraisal still needs to happen – when is a good time?


It seems that not everyone likes appraisals! There’s a lot you can do before the appraisal meeting to help the employee feel more positive about it. If things go awry during the meeting, remember to remain polite, respectful and assertive.

Behaviour breeds behaviour – let yours breed theirs, not the other way around!


Case Study: Leadership Development Training at STL

Organisational Profiles

As part of our Public Schedule portfolio, STL offers leadership development to a range of organisations, from the leading brand in healthy drinks to one of the best-known luxury hotel chains.

Despite the different settings and company cultures, what they all have in common is that they have identified a ‘leadership profile’. Namely employees who are progressing into more challenging roles, be that as a team leader, project or people management roles, and who all require up-skilling to grow into their existing or forthcoming roles.


Their HR/Learning and Development departments choose this particular course because they are, amongst other things, looking for the following benefits:

  • Identifying the skills and qualities that make a good leader, and how that differentiates from simply ‘managing’
  • Key strategies and tools to discover and utilise their employee’s leadership strengths
  • How finding a balanced leadership focus can improve productivity, team motivation and cohesion
  • A deep understanding of team dynamics and how to improve relations via coaching, mentoring, social events and offering feedback, amongst other areas
  • Performance Management; assessing and developing individual effectiveness by examining communication skills, rapport-building, time management, setting appropriate boundaries and developing natural assertiveness
  • Becoming an effective task leader by setting goals that are measurable, realistic and achievable, leading the planning process and maintaining control of the team.

We draw on cutting edge material at the forefront of leadership development to accomplish this, including the following principles:

  • Being guided by the Future you want and staying focused on your vision
  • Engaging others in productive and stimulating working relationships that make things happen
  • Delivering the results you need to really move your business forward
Learning Deliverables for Leaders

All taken from the excellent ‘Leadership Plain and Simple book by Steve Radcliffe (UK) and the newest research by Dr Sunnie Giles, who stresses the importance of making employees feel safe as a key leadership quality, rather than the more fluffy and ill-defined ‘being charismatic’ that we’re so used to seeing in standard leadership material.

These form a powerful backbone to the course, which in addition to our proprietary materials make for some very engaging discussions amongst the group. One of the biggest benefits of course, is precisely this – the fact that we have a number of delegates from different industries all openly sharing their thoughts, hopes, experiences and challenges around current corporate leadership.

As best-practice and problem-solving meshes with our materials, you can see light-bulb moments happening as delegates re-frame their current experiences with this new information and clearly see how they can put this into action to increase productivity throughout their areas of the business.

One of the areas that comes up time and time again is the need to be assertive and push back before they burn out. We now include that in our Leadership course as standard, and role-play scenarios to help emerging leaders become more resilient.

As the trainer, it’s always gratifying to facilitate Leadership development. As Forbes so accurately says “With an estimated $166 billion annual spend on leadership development in the USA alone, organisations must transform these mission-critical programs to create real and lasting impact.”

And that’s our key focus. With 80% of this course being practical, delegates emerge with a newfound confidence in their skills and often form lasting connections with their peers on these types of high-level courses.


Our feedback has been excellent across the board with delegates saying;

“We received loads of practical advice, discussed examples, practised role-playing and delivering and receiving feedback/advice from the trainer. Thank you!”

“Alison is really an excellent trainer. Lots of experience, full of positive energy and pays so much attention to each of the members. I am totally impressed. Today I learnt not only communication skills but lots more. I see how much she engaged with the training preparation and how quickly she can react to our questions. She is very professional, it’s so nice to experience such a high level of presentation skill! Thank you so much!”


As a training team, developing our future leaders is something that we are passionate about. This is one of our most popular courses, and rightly so. There are very real skills-gaps at a corporate level that urgently need filling, and the range of material offered by this course afford us real scope to over-deliver for our clients.

Learn more about our Leadership Development course or our full range of leadership skills training on our website.