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How do I Figure Out What the Employee is Feeling?

Psychologists tell us that there are only four feelings: glad, sad, mad, and scared. All other feelings are variations on these four.

Glad is the feeling you’re likely to encounter when you’ve given Tommy a great review. He did a great job; the performance appraisal reflects it. He’s glad and it shows.

Sad is more common when the news is not good. The person is hurt and may react by becoming withdrawn. The voice level is lowered; the person is less animated and more constrained. Tears may flow.

Mad is the direct opposite of glad. The individual is angry, feels wronged. The voice level goes up, her face reddens. She seems ready for a fight. Interruptions are more likely.

Finally, some people react to a poor performance appraisal as scared. They are afraid of what will happen to them as a result of having done a poor job and having that poor performance become a matter of record. Their speech is hesitating; they ask worried questions about what will happen next.

Tell Me More

In each of these cases, reflecting feelings is a useful way to help the person deal with his or her emotional reaction to the performance appraisal and move on toward focusing on changes that need to be made to ensure future improvement. A statement like, ‘‘I get the impression that you’re disappointed with the results of your performance appraisal, Charles,’’ or, ‘‘You seem very worried about the assessment I have written, Paul,’’ lets people know that you empathize with their feelings. It also lets them know that it’s okay to permit emotional reactions in the discussion.

Red Flag

Don’t ever use the phrase ‘‘I know how you feel . . .’’ in trying to reflect the individual’s feelings. You actually don’t know how the person feels. Rather, you are trying to understand. Saying ’’I know how you feel‘‘ is likely to provoke a spirited, ’’No, you don’t!‘‘ Another phrase to avoid absolutely is, ’’You shouldn’t feel that way.‘‘ Although our own emotional reaction might differ from the one that the employee is experiencing, telling the person what his emotional reaction to a distressing event should be is inappropriate.