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Team Intellect

How to have difficult conversations with your manager during appraisal

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As the year-end appraisal season approaches, it’s natural for employees and team members to feel a bit uneasy. Difficult conversations are expected, and the uncertainty can be a bit nerve-wracking. While managers have their methods, like the “sandwich” approach, team members might find these talks surprising and may react emotionally.

Previously, our executive coach offered tips on how employees can prepare for performance reviews. In this guide by Intellect’s Clinical Engagement Expert, Li Yuan, we’ll look at five difficult conversations that might come up and how you can handle them professionally and genuinely.

Scenario 1: Disagreeing on ratings

Situation: You’ve noticed a difference between your self-assessment and your manager’s evaluation, and it’s left you feeling a mix of embarrassment and frustration. How can you bring up your concerns about the rating without coming across as argumentative?

Recommendation: Honesty is the best policy only when delivered in an open, constructive, and diplomatic tone. Begin by expressing appreciation for the feedback, recognising your manager’s perspective, and showing a true willingness to understand their point of view.

You might say:

Thank you for sharing your feedback on my performance. After reviewing your evaluation carefully, I’ve identified a few disparities compared to my self-assessment.

I would appreciate the opportunity to have a more in-depth discussion about these points to better understand your perspective and align my goals more closely with the team’s expectations.

Could we schedule a meeting to explore that?

Rationale: This approach shows your dedication to improvement and steers clear of a confrontational tone. Before the meeting, it’s beneficial to collaborate on the agenda and crystallise your thoughts on each item. This helps both parties to expect the topics that will be covered during the meeting.

Scenario 2: Sharing your challenges

Situation: With the downsizing of your department this year, you lacked the support needed to perform your job effectively. Despite this challenge, your manager advises you to improve next year. Feeling misunderstood, you want to provide justification but are hesitant to appear as though you’re making excuses.

Recommendation: First things first, there is a difference between getting defensive and giving your manager additional context to work with. If anything, communicating transparently about the obstacles you have faced, are facing, and expect to face allows them to check their blind spots and set you up for success.

You might say:

“Thank you for your feedback, and I am totally on board with stepping up my game next year.

On that note, the downsizing in our department has made it a bit tough with resources and support. I’m actively looking for ways to work around these limitations, and I’d really appreciate any guidance on navigating them better.

My goal is to contribute meaningfully to the team’s success, so I’m open to any insights you may have on how I can achieve that in the current circumstances.” 

Rationale: Again, this shows your dedication to improvement, placing both parties on the same page from the get go, while subtly conveying your difficulties as roadblocks in the way of your common goal.

Scenario 3: Differing expectations of job scope

Situation: As a result of organisational restructuring, your roles and responsibilities have shifted from what you initially signed up for. You wish to discuss this, but you’re concerned about coming across as unadaptable. 

Recommendation: What you do day in and out shapes your professional growth, making it crucial to address this issue no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. In this discussion, you will do well to share your concerns while highlighting your willingness to embrace change where it is aligned with your career goals.

You might say:

“I’ve noticed a shift in my roles and responsibilities since the restructuring and I want to ensure that I fully understand and am aligned with what is expected of me.

I am open to taking on new challenges, but I would appreciate more clarity on how these adjustments contribute to the big-picture objectives. This will help me to sync my efforts up with the team’s goals.

I would deeply appreciate the opportunity for us to discuss these changes in detail as I am eager to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

Rationale: In this situation, you’re showing that you remain dedicated to the department’s collective success while striving to understand what is expected of you as an individual. This doesn’t paint you as incompetent; rather, you’re being proactive about maintaining effectiveness even in face of change.

Scenario 4. Negotiating for recognition and rewards

Situation: You’ve successfully closed one of the company’s most significant deals this year and believe that your contribution warrants a year-end bonus. You aim to communicate this to your manager without appearing entitled.

Recommendation: Before bringing up the subject, take a moment to reflect on the reasonableness of your request. (For example, if the company is in the red, your chances of success might be lower.) Then, when you initiate the conversation, ensure it is framed in a way that emphasises your contributions and the value you’ve added to the organisation.

You might say:

“I’m genuinely proud of the results we achieved with the recent deal, and I’m enthusiastic about the positive impact it has and will bring to the company.

I was hoping we could discuss the possibility of an adjustment to my year-end bonus to reflect the outcomes we’ve accomplished together. I value the opportunities here and am eager to grow alongside the company while continuing to deliver impactful results for the team.”


Rationale: This demonstrates your gratitude for the opportunity and acknowledges that your achievement was not solitary. Maintaining humility can go a long way in making a case for a reward that reflects your contribution to the company’s success. 

Scenario 5: Giving feedback on communication style

Situation: You perceive your manager’s feedback style as aggressive, and wish to express that it’s not conducive to your learning. However, you’re concerned that it might make them feel defensive and be counterproductive to the appraisal.

Recommendation: Giving your manager feedback demands tact and diplomacy. To sidestep finger-pointing and steer clear of the blame game, consider emphasising your own learning preferences rather than critiquing their communication style.

2 people having a conversation

You might say:

“I appreciate your insights and am eager to take actionable steps to improve based on them.

I’ve observed that I absorb feedback more effectively in a slightly different style – one that is more collaborative. I want to ensure I’m extracting the most value from your guidance, and it would be immensely helpful for my learning if we could explore a more constructive approach together.”

Rationale: This way, you’re conveying your need for conducive learning environment and inviting your manager to collaborate with you. Concluding your request with a question fosters open dialogue and prevents the other party from feeling cornered.

How Intellect can help 

The ability to navigate difficult conversations ultimately hinges on one’s assertiveness skills. However, these may not be an inherent strength in the context of many work cultures. But this is where the merits of coaching shine.

During appraisal season, coaching helps managers to deliver negative feedback effectively and assists employees in expressing their needs with greater confidence. Communication is authentic yet respectful, and issues are neither swept under the rug nor escalated into confrontations.

In the long run, this fosters effective communication, improves relationships, and promotes personal and professional growth for both managers and employees.

Learn more about Intellect coaching here.


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