“Here’s how to minimize upper counterfactuals before an appraisal:
- No surprises. Hold enough feedback sessions in the months leading up to the appraisal so that employees can predict precisely what they’ll hear from you. Performance evaluations should never contain surprises.
- Be clear. Ensure employees totally understand how their performance will be measured. It is terribly unfair to enforce an unpredictable bell curve rating system.
- Ask questions. Have honest conversations to explore what employees are expecting. Then you can correct misperceptions in advance–or at the very least be prepared for them.
And here’s how to deal with upper counterfactuals when they happen during an appraisal:
- Don’t argue or debate. Let employees vent. Sometimes all they want is to be heard.
- Paraphrase what they say to show you listened.
- Ask further questions to learn about the underlying reasons for how they feel. The more you know, the better you can respond–and sometimes empathize.
- If necessary, refer to previous discussions when you talked about performance issues.
- Be prepared to concede that maybe–just maybe–your rating was wrong. (It does happen.)
Be fair, be honest, be straightforward… and also consider the impact of the appraisal on the employee.
When you do, your employees won’t need to be first to feel like they’re winners.”