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!